Starbucks: Backtracking on Barista Spend Management, But What About Those Beans? (Part 1)

For those who know the employees in our office and me, personally, you know we take our coffee seriously (Sheena borders on the point of a slight obsession). Perhaps this is why we recently spent a few days coming up with a new coffee management strategy that balances quality, cost and environmental friendliness for a small business environment. It's also the reason I personally tend to favor local coffee shops (and Peets) over Starbucks when possible. Though I will admit Starbucks can be a lifesaver when you're in the middle of nowhere and you need a good cup of tea (which has improved greatly recently, now they they've gone to the loose-leaf variety) or espresso drink. Yet for drip coffee, I actually prefer Dunkin Donuts, especially when traveling in New England and most metropolitan areas.

Still, not all Starbucks consumers find their espresso drinks as acceptable as I do. A recent WSJ story, for example, suggests that Starbucks is taking seriously the reaction that "customers have indicated that the quality of espresso drinks at Starbucks is 'average' and that the beverages are inconsistently prepared from barista to barista and from store to store." This "average" rating is one we can largely attribute to cost reduction efforts, especially if the lean kind. To wit, "Starbucks has been applying to the coffee counter the kind of "lean" manufacturing techniques car makers have long used as a way to streamline production, eliminate wasteful activity and speed up service. The company has deployed a 'lean team' to study every move its baristas make in order to shave seconds off each order."

Even though there is no word yet if Starbucks employed Kaizan events to help produce more efficient soy mocha lattes, the lean team did discover "that many stores kept beans below the counter, leading baristas to waste time bending over to scoop beans, so those stores ended up storing the beans in bins on the top of the counter." Automation steps, such as grinding beans in advance, potentially detracted from the experience and taste, so "to boost the freshness of the coffee and to bring back some of the 'theater' that had been lost...baristas [have] started grinding beans for each batch of coffee, instead of grinding the day's beans in the morning."

Our own intelligence suggests the "average" coffee experience may be more about the quality of the raw material itself rather than it is the last mile of the coffee supply chain. Stay tuned as we get to the heart of the challenge at Starbucks for filter coffee: the bean itself.

Jason Busch

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