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Starbucks unveil new plan

02 April 2008

Starbucks, which drew international disbelief and some derision recently when it closed every single American store for an afternoon so that a mass training session could be held, has now unveiled its five-point master plan for regaining the high ground in the coffee bar sector.

At the company's AGM, chairman Howard Schultz announced that Starbucks would introduce a ‘revolutionary' new espresso coffee machine, and that he would also buy the company which has introduced a ground-breaking new machine for filter coffee, in order that he could ‘completely re-invent' the concept of filter coffee in Starbucks stores.

At the same time, he promised to introduce a new rewards programme, launch the MyStarbucksIdea.com project to create ‘an online community to take the Starbucks Experience outside the store', and an expanded relationship with Conservation International to demonstrate progress in ethical sourcing.

The new espresso machine is the Mastrena, made by Thermoplan of Switzerland, which is the company behind the well-known Black and White machines. Starbucks said it was unable to give details or a picture of the machine, but Thermoplan's managing director Adrian Steiner told Coffee House magazine that the Mastrena would feature ‘quality improvement through continuous shot monitoring'.

That new machine is to reach Starbucks' international stores this summer.

The acquisition was of the company which makes the Clover, a machine which genuinely has aroused worldwide interest. This allows for filter coffee to be made with absolute precision, thus getting the very best out of every different kind of coffee. It is extremely expensive, costing something like £7,000 in Britain, where the distributor is the Matthew Algie roastery in Glasgow. The official company report of the Starbucks AGM featured a scripted question-and-answer session which included a query on whether other companies could still obtain and use the Clover - the answer was vague. However, the Scottish company commented that when Starbucks purchased a tea brand some years ago, they did not cut off availability to other markets.

Launch data about MyStarbucksIdea.com. was extremely vague - full of PR-talk, but no clear content. From early posts on the site, it appears that the idea is for customers to tell Starbucks what they want from the stores; senior executives appear to have to respond enthusiastically… and two of the first three responses from executives did indeed include the word 'wow!'

In its sourcing activity, Starbucks has made a five-year global commitment to support farmers who are preserving forests in coffee regions. The project will begin with two launch sites in Sumatra, Indonesia, and Chiapas, Mexico. It has devised a new certification for its own coffee, and by the middle of April, all coffee served in its stores will bear that mark to show it is part of the Conservation International work.

Elsewhere in the general improvement plans were ideas for free refills on filter coffee (a traditional service which has operated in many privately-owned American cafes for decades) , that filter coffee would be freshly brewed at new set intervals, to avoid staleness, and that there will be two hours of free instore wi-fi for certain registered customers.

Meanwhile, Starbucks in America has been ordered to pay back more than $100 million in tips owed to staff across outlets in California. A San Diego court ruled that supervisors were unfairly receiving a share of pooled tips from customers; a lawyer for the company's staff said that the action was about getting money back to the lowest-paid employees. Starbucks will appeal.

By Ian Boughton

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