Sumitro Ghosh, Tata Starbucks CEO, says the opportunities are tremendous in the Indian market.
Sumitro Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tata Starbucks, the 50:50 joint venture between Starbucks and Tata Global Beverages Limited (TBL), spoke to The Sunday Guardian during his visit to Delhi this week and spoke about the immense opportunities that Starbucks has in India. He also shared his experience in the Indian market after he moved to India to take up the top job in January 2016. Excerpts:
Q: It has been almost two-and-a-half years that you have been with Starbucks India as the CEO, prior to which you were with Starbucks in the USA. How have your experience been in India and what differences have you noticed between the two countries?
A: I was part of Starbucks for eight years in the United States before coming to India and getting the opportunity to lead a brand that I love. The experience has been more than I could have imagined.
In terms of differences, I would say it’s more like the same than different. The feel, the environment at Starbucks is the same across the world. One thing which is different is that the peak hours in Starbucks in the US is between 7 am and 9 am, while in India it’s post noon.
Q: What are the opportunities and challenges that you have encountered in the Indian market?
A: There is a demand for the brand and the opportunities are tremendous in the Indian market. The experience and the demand for the product among the people have been very strong. India has been the fastest growing international market outside the USA, in the first five years of launching Starbucks in any country. We crossed the 100 stores mark last year, and now we already have 122 stores across the country. We opened three stores in Kolkata at once and the reception has been incredible. The challenge, however, lies in keeping up with the pace and maintenance of infrastructure.
Q: How do you see Delhi as a market for Starbucks?
A: In Delhi, the market has been fantastic. We have 33 stores here today and as we are growing, we have found that consumers are loving the experience of different beverages and food that we have. The environment and learning experience at Starbucks about the different varieties of coffee is incredible.
Q: As the CEO, what are the changes you have brought after you have taken over?
A: The only thing I brought here with me was the experience I had with Starbucks for eight years in the US. I recognised the market and frankly the culture is incredible here. The consumer response was great. My opportunity was to take what was in place and make sure to put everything together and look forward.
Q: So what were your three most important priorities here?
A: Firstly, making sure that we deliver on the promise that we have made to our consumers and to our own people with respect and dignity and provide all our employees with a great work culture. I am very happy that we could deliver on that. Secondly, the promise we made to our consumers. When you come to Starbucks, you expect a wonderful environment and experience, with the most incredible food and beverages which you cannot expect anywhere else. We have to ensure that we constantly maintain that experience for you. Thirdly, we ensure that you get a very customised and personalised experience every time you come to a Starbucks store anywhere in the country.
Q: Starbucks had recently decided to do away with the use of plastic straws from its stores by 2020 keeping in mind the environment hazards plastic poses. How are you planning to implement this in India?
A: In India, we have already moved to compostable straw even now and this has been our first move. Other environment friendly initiatives that we have been bringing in include the use of recyclable cup and wares. We also encourage the use of glass and porcelain cups by our customers. We have also recently started implementing the idea that if you bring your own cup into the store, we give you Rs 10 off as a goodwill gesture to incentivise people for not using any paper products. We have also been using pressed coffee beans as fertilisers rather than throwing them away into the bins.
Q: There are several coffee brands in India; how do you make Starbucks different from them? What is the edge that you think Starbucks has over other coffee brands in India?
A: The USP at Starbucks stores is their incredible environment—warm, welcoming and an elevating experience as you walk in. Secondly, we use only the highest quality of ingredients for all our food products—we purchase the top 3% Arabica beans to maintain the highest quality of coffee that we brew and serve our customers. We also innovate with our beverages and offer consumers a lot more choices in beverages as well as food. We ensure that we explore coffee in the most different ways possible. We treat each other (those who work for the company) with respect and dignity and provide them with incredible benefits.
Q: Over the next five years, where do you see Starbucks going in terms of market share?
A: Starbucks is just going to grow over the next five years. We are going to grow in terms of stores and revenue organically. With new stores coming up, we are entering more and more cities. We have an incredible roadmap going forward, including in terms of market share.
Q: Lastly, how do you find your partnership with Tata?
A: It is an incredible partnership and more than anything, what is important for Starbucks is like-minded, value-oriented people who are interested not just in profit, but what we are doing for the people of India. We treat each other with respect and I don’t think there could be a better partnership in the world than with the Tatas.