How Starbucks Can Revive China’s Lost Tea Culture

Starbucks’ announcement to enter China’s tea market has raised a few eyebrows. Some questioned why Chinese consumers would want to drink tea from a foreign coffee chain, given their own rich tea tradition. I wondered, however, why it took Starbucks so long to venture into China’s tea business. 

China may have thousands of years of tea-drinking history, but its tea culture has been largely lost.

Little has changed in China’s tea culture

I recently visited Longjing Village in Hangzhou, one of China’s famous tea capitals. A college friend wanted to treat me to my hometown’s finest green tea—the Longjing tea, also known as Dragon Well tea. Legend has it that the Qing emperor Qianlong favored Longjing tea so much that he planted 18 tea trees in the hills himself.

Farmers at Longjing Village have been growing tea for centuries. In recent years, they turned the village into a tea garden with restaurants featuring local cuisine. Its countryside setting is much sought after by locals and tourists alike who want to escape the stress of city life. Continue reading

Five Things Starbucks Did to Get China Right

If there is one company that should have failed in China, it would be Starbucks. China has thousands of years of history drinking tea and a strong culture associated with it. No one could have guessed that Chinese would ever drink coffee instead of tea.

Yet, Starbucks has successfully opened more than 570 stores in 48 cities since it first entered China twelve years ago. Building on this momentum, it plans to open 1,500 stores by 2015. What did the Seattle-based coffee company do right in China? Here are five lessons from Starbucks’ success.

Think Different

When Starbucks entered China in 1999, many were skeptical that Starbucks had a chance. Given the fact that Chinese people have traditionally favored tea, it seemed impossible that Starbucks would be able to break into this market.

However, Starbucks did not let this skepticism stop it. A careful market study revealed that as the Chinese middle class emerged, there existed an opportunity for Starbucks to introduce a Western coffee experience, where people could meet with their friends while drinking their favorite beverages.

Starbucks literally created that demand. Now you can find a Starbucks almost on every major street of the coastal cities in China. Even my 90-year old father in China began to tell me how he drank coffee after meals, rather than tea, to help his digestion. Starbucks has revolutionized how Chinese view and drink coffee.

Position Smart

Once Starbucks decided to enter China, it implemented a smart market entry strategy. It did not use any advertising and promotions that could be perceived by the Chinese as a threat to their tea-drinking culture. Instead, it focused on selecting high-visibility and high-traffic locations to project its brand image.

The next thing Starbucks did was to capitalize on the tea-drinking culture of Chinese consumers by introducing beverages using popular local ingredients such as green tea. This strategy has effectively turned potential obstacles into Starbucks’ favor. Chinese consumers quickly developed a taste for Starbucks’ coffee, which was essential to Starbucks’ success in China. Continue reading

All the Jobs in China

I was quoted on The Daily, a new media for iPad, about Starbucks and PriceWaterHouseCoopers massive expansions in China: “All the jobs in China:  2 companies looking to hire from Asian giant’s huge middle class”:

Yesterday, accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers trumpeted plans to expand massively in Asia by hiring 15,000 people in China and Hong Kong over the next five years.

In fact, the firm said it will bring thousands of jobs to Chinese college graduates in the next few months, according to Dow Jones.

Starbucks, meanwhile, announced its own blistering expansion, vowing to more than triple the number of its mermaid- themed coffee shops in China by 2015. It’s aiming to get up to 1,500 locations in four years.

And here is where I was quoted:

Still, that doesn’t mean everything is gravy in China. According to Helen Wang, consultant and author of “The Chinese Dream,” even with companies bringing new jobs, China’s middle ranks are as worried about the future as we are.

“They have extreme anxiety because they don’t know how long this window of opportunity will be open,” she told The Daily. “They worry when the optimism will be gone, and if they don’t make enough money, the government won’t take care of them like before. So they grab what they can grab.”

Read the full article “All the Jobs in China” here.

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