Show Hide image

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.