SEATTLE: Tuesday, February 26 was a day that will live in infamy for the coffee industry.
On that date, Starbucks famously shut all of its 7,100 US shops to give its baristas a refresher course on making the perfect cup of coffee. One could argue that never before has a company meeting received the media coverage that Starbucks enjoyed.
“Given that we are a daily part of so many people's lives, we knew that there would probably be a lot of interest,” says Stacey Krum, a spokesperson from Starbucks Coffee.
While Krum staunchly maintained that it was not the meeting's intent was not to drum up media attention, the company issued about five press releases prior to the event, sent info out on Business Wire, and a few select reporters were invited in to witness the training.
“It was an internal event,” says Krum, “We were looking at refocusing on the core of our business. Coffee is the core.”
“We gave access to some folks so that people would know what happened, and it's good from a reporter's standpoint to know how we do business,” Krum adds, who also stated that Starbucks made sure they didn't disrupt the lesson. “We wanted to control the store environment, and made the focus of the evening about the partners [Starbucks speak for baristas] and training.”
Dunkin' Donuts announced that it would offer small lattes, cappuccinos, and espresso drinks for $.99 on February 25, long after the Starbucks ploy was public knowledge. Despite the timing, the company said the offer was to celebrate positive results on a customer loyalty survey.
“Long before we launched the espresso revolution in 2003 and made it possible for customers to enjoy authentic lattes without long waits, high prices, and confusing sizes, the hard-working people who keep this country running recognized Dunkin' Donuts as the place to enjoy high-quality coffee and baked goods any time of day at an affordable price,” said Will Kussell, president and chief brand officer for Dunkin' Donuts Worldwide in the release. (Dunkin' Donuts was not available for an interview in time for this article.)
Judging by public comments, both companies are practically loath to admit that their adversary in the battle for java supremacy exists. This may have to do with their respective brand positioning. Both position their coffee as gourmet, but with completely different experiences.
In recent commercials, Dunkin' has made snarky sideways references to Starbucks' Italian product as a way to tag the brand as elitist. To Dunkin', the coffee is the thing; the process is mechanical. On the flip side, Starbucks has embraced their baristas – this event being one such example – and the process that goes into making the coffee. After all, part of the training was to remind the baristas/partners to “use their senses to tell when a shot looks right and smells right,” according to Krum, who went on to say that the water on the perfect espresso should go through the coffee 15 to 19 seconds.
From Starbucks' perspective, the event was successful as it has received positive feedback from the staff, and they hope that customers will be able to tell the difference during their next visit. Krum says there is no organized effort to keep an eye on blogs, where it has been reported that some employees have been critical about the experience.
The battle continues.