Column: Starbucks sets up shop in India

You’ve probably never heard of Café Coffee Day, but since 1996, they have opened 1350 retail establishments — from Pune to Kolkata — and it’s become a big part of the cultural fabric for many young Indians.

But a green mermaid has this low-hanging coffee fruit in sight.

Last week, India’s first Starbucks opened in Mumbai with two more to come this week.

The new 4,000 square-foot, two-level palace of free-market coffee glory — that also serves chicken tikka panini and cardamom-flavored croissants — sells black coffee at 85 rupees, about $1.57, more expensive than Café Coffee Day and cheaper than other foreign franchises already in India such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

And yes, Starbucks and its Indian partner, the Tata group, are “excited” and hope to open as many as 50 stores by the year’s end.

There is some good in this Starbucks installation — their Tata partnership has them use Indian coffee beans exclusively — but this is a tempered example of profit-focused, multinational corporation growth abroad — Starbucks hopes to win by taking the share of businesses such as Café Coffee Day.

Just as McDonalds, Coca Cola, Subway and even the women’s fitness franchise Curves have done before in countries all around the world, Starbucks’ entrance to the Indian coffee café market is a direct attempt to undercut established businesses, extract profits of people abroad and expand its stranglehold, which is also simply termed “making a buck.”

And yes, multinationals often bring some new and exciting items that an existing country may not have, but I say it’s often not worth it.

I wholeheartedly believe the majority of profits from labor should stay with the country of the people who work, not to a foreign country that tries to divert their money. This practice creates dependency of resources and kills economic sustainability.

Whereas most refer to this growth of international markets as “globalization,” I prefer the term “neoliberalism” because I believe it more accurately describes the installation of private companies abroad and economic liberalization of countries to divert profits.

Multinational corporations are equally dog-eat-dog with each other as well. Also this week, Bloomberg Businessweek said that Nestlé — the largest food company in terms of revenue in the world — is trying to edge out Starbucks in growing Chinese industrial cities.

They cite that even though China only drinks three cups a year per capita (compared to France’s 604 cups a year), they believe there is a growing “coffee culture” that’s worth targeting.

Starbucks has already been in China for 13 years, but they can’t get any respect from competitors (It’s not as if they need it — they’re already the largest coffee retailer in the world.)

This constant growth mentality of multinationals and this never-ending desire to not be profitable but to instead grow said profit means there is often a boom of anything successful.

The vast spread of some of these companies — McDonalds presence with 30,000 locations in 119 countries, and Coca-Cola’s 500 brands in 200 countries — provide head-spinning numbers., a mapping company, keeps track of all of the Starbucks stores around the world. As of September, there are 975 Starbucks locations in the Bay Area — 96 in San Francisco alone.

How many Starbucks does a community really need? Flavored Frappuccinos and expensive espressos are admittedly a fun treat, but their attempt to make us, the consumer, constantly purchase is nauseating.

It’s understandable when a community has a desire to bring a new business to town, such as Phil Jaber and his Philz Coffee shops in San Francisco. With a model that was entirely focused on the customer and not about profit, people were willing to pay a premium — even more than they would at Starbucks — for the kindness and craft that his business promotes.

If they choose to adopt our whipped-cream-topped 700-calorie beverages, so be it, but our cultures are distinct. Let them exist.

This constant meddling of multinationals to make dollars, yen, and rupees kills culture — what about the man selling coffee or tea on the corner? Will Starbucks make up his lost revenue? No, his business will die, and that’s their point — to develop a stranglehold on the whole world.

I think we should let locals everywhere — internationally and domestic — independently choose to open (or not open) their own shops, and let their locals choose to drink coffee, tea or not.

India may be the second largest English speaking nation in the world, but it gives us no right to install our own American businesses that will likely kill their own. India never said we could determine how they should drink coffee, or that they’d be okay with our American iteration of their own product.

At a deep core level, placing a large American coffee chain in a country which has been growing coffee for four times as long as the United States has existed is insulting. Who are we to tell a 1100-year-old coffee culture to adapt to our multinational blend instead?

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