A recent cover story in Willamette Week articulated a growing feeling I've had: that the now common gibes against Starbucks Coffee are unfair and hypocritical. I've often criticized large corporations for negatively impacting local businesses and fostering homogeniety of product. But if other corporations got as much flak as Starbucks, Ralph Nader would be president.
People argue that Starbucks stifles local coffee shops. Not true. Studies have shown that Starbucks is actually a point of entry for espresso drinkers: First you try it there, then you're more willing to branch out to individual mom-and-pop stores. And here in Portland, for example, those non-Starbucks coffee bars have grown exponentially in number since Starbucks arrived here in 1991. Others argue that Starbucks takes advantage of unfairly low-waged labor in developing countries. But specialty coffee accounts for only about 7% of the world coffee market. Those who grow and pick coffee for Starbucks are paid no worse than those doing it for, say, Folgers. I do agree that Starbucks contributes to the larger trend of corporate retail homogeneity, but that extends to virtually every type of shopping experience. It's not fair to single out one company, especially when Starbucks happens to be very good at what they do. I love their coffee, to the extent that I'm sometimes quite disappointed when I do go to an independent espresso bar.
I also think Starbucks played a significant role in making the espresso market in the United States what it is today. Less than 15 years ago, it was pretty difficult to find espresso in this country, even the now coffee-obsessed Pacific Northwest. But as soon as Starbucks franchises started popping up here, so did a lot of others.
I'm all for patronizing Starbucks' smaller competitors in the espresso market. But bashing Starbucks is a hollow protest du jour that people obviously haven't thought through. If you want to bash a coporation, there are a lot of far more worthy targets out there, from Walmart to Enron. Have a latte and start there.