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Coffee update

October 22nd, 2003

A rather silly article in the Fin (Gloria Jean’s, purveyor of crap coffee in paper cups is described as ‘the leader in the specialty coffee market’, on the strength of its 140 food-court outlets), contains the gratifying news that Starbucks’ assault on the Australian market has been a failure so far. After opening 37 stores out of a promised 50 the purchaser of the franchise has given up and handed it back to Starbucks Central.

A couple of indicators of the problems ahead of Starbucks here.

First, the Qantas in-flight magazine I read on a recent trip had lots of restaurant reviews for visitors to Australian cities. Most included advice on both the brand of coffee served and the quality of preparation and service – the wine list was mentioned only occasionally.

Second, there’s the ubiquity of high-quality espresso. The Fin article I mentioned claimed that the number of cafes had declined marginally in the last couple of years, but if that’s true it’s only because espresso machines have become a universal feature the landscape. In my little corner of Brisbane I have a choice of buying my coffee at the Faculty rooftop cafe, the fish-and-chip shop, the bakery, the deli, the bookshop and the garden centre, not to mention a couple of dozen cafes and restaurants. Meanwhile, judging by the average news story on the subject, Starbucks thinks it’s competing with Gloria Jeans and McCafe.

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