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Starbucks in Mumbai go one-in-one-out as popularity booms

Coffee chain expands with its first stores in India.

If you’re one of the millions whose early-morning cognitive faculties are exclusively dependant on a dose of caffeine, you may want to count yourself lucky that you’re not in Mumbai this week. The recent opening of the first ever Starbucks store in the city has seen an unprecedented demand for the iconic American brand – with queues extending for over an hour.

The overwhelming enthusiasm for corporate coffee has proved so extensive that Starbucks outlets are operating policies more reminiscent of nightclubs – with security guards implementing strict one-in-one-out regulations.

In the past two weeks, three Starbucks stores have opened in Mumbai, signalling the brand’s first venture into India. Queues of over fifty people were present from the first day, and demand hasn’t abated in the ten days since the first store opened. “It took me 15 minutes to get in, and another half hour to get to the counter” notes Rachit Goswami writing in India Today. This is an almost unfathomable concept in Britain, where, as any barista will tell you, waiting for more than six minutes for a latte is likely to drive customers to histrionics.

However, the opening of the new Mumbai stores has been viewed by many as a surprisingly late-entry for the world’s biggest coffee chain into Asia’s third-largest economy. Starbucks already has a presence in 61 countries, including a hugely successful recent expansion in China. The delayed entry into the demonstrably promising Indian market has resulted from a search for a suitable retail partnership. The Mumbai outlets are the result of a fifty-fifty joint venture finally confirmed between the Seattle company and Tata Global Beverages.

The Indian appetite for hot drinks has a historic precedent from its status as one of the largest tea-producers in the world. Much of the national character of the country can be epitomised by chai – the spicy, sugary tea which is ubiquitous on street stalls throughout the country. The receptive market for coffee, however, is indicative of changes in Indian society, notably the rise of the middle classes. Wealthy young consumers with increasing disposable incomes are a large explanation for the boom in coffee culture. Indeed, over the past five years, the Indian café sector has veritably exploded, reporting a six-fold increase,

The initial success of Starbucks in India will be welcome news for a chain which has been widely reported decreasing profits in many Western countries. Starbucks recently admitted that a quarter of its UK outlets are currently operating at a loss.

Kamila Kocialkowska is a freelance journalist based in London.



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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.