World Coffee Portal speaks to Vincenzo Catrambone, General Manager of Starbucks Italy, Percassi, about the coffee chain’s unique approach to the Italian market, the delicate balance between innovation and tradition and why human connections remain at the heart of its mission
In the past five years, Starbucks has opened 27 stores across Northern and Central Italy | Photo credit: Starbucks
It has been five years since Starbucks entered the Italian market with a super-premium Reserve Roastery in Milan, a store that remains the jewel in the crown of the Seattle-based coffee chain’s European portfolio. With 27 stores, and plans to reach 36 by the end of the year, the coffee chain has worked hard to win the hearts and minds of Italy’s famously discerning coffee consumers – and the future looks bright, says Vincenzo Catrambone, General Manager Starbucks Italy, Percassi.
In a market less ventured by international branded coffee chains, how is Starbucks pitching itself to Italian consumers?
At Starbucks, we’re not a coffee business serving people, we’re a people business serving coffee. That’s been our guiding philosophy since the beginning, and that’s what we continue to bring to the Italian market since we first arrived in 2018 – a company with partners (employees), customers and coffee at its core.
We will continue to bring the unique Starbucks experience to Italian customers in new, exciting and innovative ways. For example, Italian consumers became the first in the world to enjoy Starbucks Oleato beverages and the customer response so far has been positive.
Looking at the broader Italian coffee market, this is a rich area of coffee heritage and authentic flavours, which means we’ll always be looking for new ways to stand out and appeal. We’re particularly interested in providing a seamless Starbucks experience for those customers either taking the time to dine in or busy individuals who want to enjoy their coffee on-the-go, as part of their daily routines.
How has the traditionally value-focused market responded to Starbucks’ premium offer?
We are proud to be a premium coffee company – our ingredients are always of the highest quality, and we are delighted by our success in Italy over the last five years in partnership with Percassi.
When Starbucks first arrived in Italy, we opened our iconic flagship store, Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan, which still currently serves as our only Reserve Roastery in Europe. It also acts as a brand amplifier, providing an immersive coffee experience and a pipeline of design and product innovation. It’s really inspiring for us as a global company to create a unique place for our Italian customers to enjoy premium beverages, alongside the art and science of our coffee craft and innovation. This iconic location continues to drive high footfall as a popular destination for Starbucks superfans, locals and tourists alike throughout the year.
Italian consumers became the first in the world to enjoy Starbucks Oleato beverages | Photo credit: Starbucks
How does Starbucks’ approach to expansion in the Italian market differ from other European countries?
In the past five years, we have opened 27 stores across northern and central Italy, 10 of them in 2022 alone, and each new store has been carefully considered to ensure it delivers the premium Starbucks Experience we know our customers expect from us.
We are always looking closely at the needs of our local Italian coffee lovers in each new region we enter, considering every element from the type of store format to modern interiors that suit the needs of a typical Starbucks customer. Of course, the beverage and wider menu offering is an integral part of each store.
We have just opened a new store in Rome’s Termini station in the Food Lounge of the Terrace. With a 150sq m space, furnished with sofas, tables, and charging outlets for customers, the store represents a warm and welcoming place where customers can quickly grab their favourite food and beverages, or where they can sit down to enjoy their favourite snacks, relax, meet friends or family, or work.
“There is a balance between championing innovation and embracing more traditional coffee preferences, particularly with the coffee connoisseurs that Italy is renowned for”
How do Italians view the Third Place environment and does it differ from other European markets?
We strive for all Starbucks stores to become a hub for human connection and conversation, and the bringing together of local communities will always remain a core part of the Starbucks Experience. From the very beginning, Italian coffee and European café culture sparked the imagination of our founders, forming the basis of our Third Place cafés that our customers enjoy today.
While every Starbucks store creates a warm and welcoming environment, each store community grows and evolves over time thanks to the unique role of our partners in serving our customers. We are grateful to our partners for the important role they play in creating a sense of community and bringing to life the ‘Third Place’ ethos each day, wherever they are.
How is Starbucks balancing emulation and innovation in Italy’s tradition-focused coffee shop market?
When we first debuted Oleato to Italian coffee lovers, we experienced queues of people outside our stores waiting to experience the new coffee ritual.
Whilst we are always looking ahead to see how we can best create elevated, hand-crafted experiences with every sip, we recognise there is a balance between championing innovation and embracing more traditional coffee preferences, particularly with the coffee connoisseurs that Italy is renowned for. What is interesting to see develop is how our Gen Z customers are turning to us for new, exciting flavour profiles and textures, ranging from iced to hot, all year-round.
Oleato is a great example of how we are innovating across both cold and hot beverage platforms, with the unexpected alchemy of these premium ingredients (Starbucks arabica coffee beans and premium extra-virgin olive oil) being well received with our popular Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso and Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew cold offerings – as well as our Oleato Caffè Latte.
The interior of Starbucks' Genoa store | Photo credit: Starbucks
Do you see the expansion of Starbucks in Italy as an indication that Italian consumers are embracing new ways to enjoy their daily coffee ritual?
It is Italian coffee culture that continues to inspire us at Starbucks, and we are committed to embracing the authentic, rich coffee culture that perpetuates in Italy in the long-term.
We are also proud to be offering something truly unique to our customers through the Starbucks Experience, which can be enjoyed based on their own needs and preferences. Importantly, while we have really enjoyed the first few years getting to know our Italian customers better, we are now focused on what the next five years – and beyond – will hold. It is exciting to think about where we can take the daily coffee ritual next for our Italian customers to taste and experience.
Will convenience formats be a focus for Starbucks in Italy or will the focus remain on premium in- store experiences?
We remain focused on delivering our commitment to open 36 stores by the end of this year. We will always look to prioritise curating premium in-store experiences, as we want to continue building connections within the local communities in which we serve. However, we are always open to exploring new formats that better suit our customers’ needs.
As we look towards future growth opportunities in Italy with our exclusive licensed partner, Percassi, we will be regularly reviewing our store portfolio to consider how the Starbucks Experience can evolve to meet the future needs and preferences of our Italian customers.
Vincenzo Catrambone is General Manager of Starbucks Italy, Percassi.