Sumitro Ghosh took charge as chief executive officer (CEO) of Tata Starbucks, the 50:50 joint venture of Tata Global Beverages and Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee Company, earlier this year. A Starbucks veteran who was born and brought up in the US, Ghosh talks to Viveat Susan Pinto on the way forward for the coffee retailer in a key emerging market. Edited excerpts:
You’ve been in India for nearly four months. Your sense of the market here?
The India market has been delightful. I can see that consumers here have been spending time at our stores and are active on social media (on Starbucks’ Twitter and Facebook pages). We continue to see how we can keep their interest going, both within stores and on social media. One was the first India-specific digital campaign that we launched last month and what I like about customers here is that they take part in something that connects with them personally. That is interesting.
When Howard Schultz (global chairman & CEO of Starbucks) was earlier this year in India, he had spoken of an aggressive rollout of stores in the country. Does that mean you will touch the 100-store-mark this calendar year?
We are already at 83 stores. Our growth plans here are strong and our strategies in place. India has seen the fastest rollout of stores in Starbucks' history, in any market. Getting to 83 stores in three and a half years is significant in that sense and we are evaluating which markets we will target beyond the six cities we are currently in.
Most analysts believe you've been slower than in China in terms of store rollouts. Is the discretionary slowdown here bogging you?
China was a market we stepped into 15 years ago. It is an established market as opposed to India, where we are still in the launch phase. All international markets we stepped into, with the exception of India, saw a slower rollout of stores in the initial phase. Markets like China gathered steam later. So, it is incorrect that India is seeing slower store rollout. It has been the fastest if you track rollouts in the initial phase across Starbucks’ international markets.
Tell us about the digital delivery platform Starbucks is looking to launch in India. When is it expected to happen?
We plan to launch this year. Basically, the platform will allow you to make payments from your phone and allow you to participate in the My Starbucks Rewards programme through your phone. It will let consumers know about menu options and store locations and instead of pulling out their Starbucks (loyalty) physical card, they can generate it on their mobile phones and pay. We first plan to get this going and then move to a mobile ordering system as exists in the US and some other markets. The mobile ordering platform is part of our long-term plan for India.
When will Teavana tea bars make their way to India? Do you see tea overtaking coffee in India, given that India is a tea drinking nation?
We plan to launch Teavana by early 2017, within Starbucks stores. We're excited about it because that should add a whole new dimension to what we are doing here. Additionally, we will continue to develop local products within Starbucks and will also look at new formats that Starbucks stores can take. So, to answer your question, our attention will be on both. The Starbucks brand will evolve and so will Teavana.