To celebrate Starbucks' 10 years in Korea, they offered free coffee at their stores here between 10 and 11 yesterday. Martin Coles, President of Starbucks Coffee International, was in Seoul for the occassion.
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The Korea Herald has something this evening; an excerpt:
Coles said that Starbucks Corp. started offering food choices like oatmeal and yogurt made with natural ingredients to reflect health and wellness in the United States, noting that this strategy will be widened at its Korea operations. He noted that plans are under way to launch fruit-based smoothies in Korea.
When the coffee giant began its official operations in Asia's fourth-largest economy on July 27, 1999, it triggered a whole new concept of coffee consumption by introducing premium take-out coffee that it had commercialized and led as a trend in Western countries. Now, Starbucks Corp. is aggressively fighting to maintain its global position as a leader in the premium coffee market by creating innovative products and marketing strategies.
The latest attempt at leading another new global trend is the Starbucks Via Ready Brew. Dorothy Kim, senior vice president of global strategy for Starbucks Coffee Co., told reporters yesterday that the new product is aimed at providing the Starbucks experience in "an instant."
There are 299 Starbucks in Korea, but only 4 down here, all in Gwangju, so I almost never go there. Those of you who are regulars, what's your take on it? While I think people working in Western chains in Korea are generally friendlier than the ones we have to tolerate back home, the service is sometimes suspect, which makes me wonder how closely the home offices are observing what goes on over here. The last time I was in Starbucks---in Seoul---the barista exhibited the oft-seen Korean habit of filling the cup only two-thirds of the way. But I rarely get drip coffee at one of these coffee shops because I can make it at home. Besides, unless I have a real craving I can't justify paying 3,000 to 5,000 won for a cup of coffee that's too often stale because so few people order it. The Starbucks in downtown Gwangju is often prohibitively crowded, so I choose one of the fifty-six others in Chungjangno.
Starbucks was rated #1 in Korea by a group in Taiwan, with Dunkin Donuts and The Coffee Bean coming in second and third, for whatever that's worth. Dunkin Donuts has been in Korea since 1994, and as of February there are 635 locations. Naver currently says 690, but I'm not going to go through and look for errors or duplicates. The Coffee Bean has been around since 2000 and has 179 locations.
I posted more on this, but cut it out for the sake of brevity, and because I have a headache. I'll leave you with a 2006 Joongang Ilbo look at the history of Korean cafes.
* Update: Okay, one more link, this one about the trouble brewing *cough* in Myeong-dong back in 2005:
Starbucks Korea said that it closed its Myeong-dong outlet because the building’s owner asked for more than double in rent, an amount the company wouldn’t disclose. The patch of land that the Myeong-dong Starbucks sits on is the most expensive piece of real estate in Korea.
“We originally had a five-year contract and so we had to renew our lease with the owner of the building, but we weren’t about to pay more than double than what we were already paying. Although the store is in a prime location, we do business strictly on its profitability, so we decided to move to another place,” a Starbucks Korea official said.
* Update 2: Oh, what the heck, I'll repost this video. I don't have any problem with Starbucks the company---and enjoyed reading through Pour Your Heart Into It---and I like the good stories I've heard about how their employees are treated. As somebody who spent a while in the "food service industry" I can appreciate this man's perspective: