India is the fastest growing market for Starbucks, globally: Manmeet Vohra, TATA Starbucks

In an exclusive interaction with exchange4media, Manmeet Vohra, Director – Marketing and Category, TATA Starbucks talks about how the brand concentrates on two-way interactive promotions to constantly engage their customers

by Priyanka Mehra and Lara Rebello
Published - Oct 16, 2015 8:47 AM Updated: Oct 16, 2015 8:47 AM
India is the fastest growing market for Starbucks, globally: Manmeet Vohra, TATA Starbucks

As Tata Starbucks completes three years in India, this year Manmeet Vohra, Director – Marketing and Category, TATA Starbucks, talks about how the brand concentrates on two-way interactive promotions to constantly engage their customers, future plans for the brand in India, 25 per cent of the brand’s sales coming from food products, and more. 

Since its inception, Tata Starbucks has spread across seven cities with 76 outlets.

“We now have 76 stores across the country and India is the fastest growing market for Starbucks, globally. We are moving at an incredible pace of growth which has been backed by a lot of passion by our partners—that’s what we like to call our employees. The customers have embraced us these past three years. We aim to continue with similar growth for this brand,” Vohra states.

The brand has found success with their loyalty program. “My Starbucks Loyalty Awards program is one of the most prominent activations. We designed a couple of our loyalty cards especially for India. It’s more than just a loyalty program, it’s about engagement and getting close to the brand in terms of emotion. We’ve completed one year of the program and we have one lakh cards registered already pan India. We passed our target and are now creating new KPIs.”

At a time when customers receive loyalty cards from numerous stores and companies, Starbucks wanted to create a card that a cafe regular would want to carry around in his or her wallet.

“In a month we do about 20 per cent of our transactions through the loyalty card,” she explains.

Customers are required to credit their loyalty account with cash, which they can then use for purchases at any of the stores and collect points. 

While coffee has been its main focus, the brand continues to focus on to the food section as well. In India our food program is a benchmark for the Asia pacific region. 25 per cent of our sales are from food products. It’s a great statistic to have. And we have been able to achieve that figure because of customer insights. You don’t need market research to know that Indians love food. Our food program is a mix of our instincts, customer understanding and also feedback and insights we get from our store partners and regular customers.”

Regular changes in the menu are made each month with special items promoted for summer, Diwali and Christmas.

We progress in phases. We won’t refresh the whole menu, but it is done in small movements. We are adding Indian items off and on and in total we have around 36 items on offer which is a healthy mix for a coffee shop to offer,” Vohra says.

Starbucks India has planned their progress in careful stages to prevent overwhelming the customer. When asked whether they find the need to increase the Indian feel to their brand, Vohra elucidates, “In terms of our experience, I don’t believe you have to go too Indian. Customers want you for your global branding so you don’t have to turn Indian per say. It’s more about comfort.”

Where other local coffee shop brands are inventing desi fusion drinks to appeal to the Indian palate, Starbucks understands the global appeal of their brand and prefers to bring in the local flavour through different means. “We imbibe the Indian-ness in other ways. For example, the Horniman Circle store has a very Indian feel to it even though the offerings are more international. Our flagship store in Hyderabad is decorated with Hyderabadi pearls. The flagship store in Pune makes use of a lot of copper because according to history, Pune as a city is linked with the discovery of copper in the area. Our flagship store in Delhi has a lot of handicrafts and woven fabrics which have been sourced from local artisans. In Chennai we launched brew equipment which people could buy to brew star bucks coffee at home since we recognised that people in Chennai are fond of brewing their own coffee at home. For us that is customisation. Being sensitive to what your customer is comfortable with.”

Commenting on the customer-understanding the brand has, Vohra says, “Our customer has taught us that the Indian consumer is very discerning and very unforgiving. From that point of view we are never complacent about our positioning, ambience and service. We are very particular that these are certain things that our brand will never fall back on.”

She adds, “What we also know is, that the same customer is willing to walk an extra mile to go to a brand in whose values they believe. The kind of respectable communication we see between our store partners and customers is one based on camaraderie. It’s not about a customer and server. The partners know the loyal customers and the customers in turn tell us that they like the engagement.”

In India, Tata Starbucks is a 50-50 joint venture between Tata Group and Starbucks Corporation with both companies reporting to a Board.

Brand innovation

“As we are growing deeper in the metro cities we are in, our focus is engagement. I don’t believe in passive communication, and I call mass media passive because I feel it is one sided. For us a lot of focus has been on digital communication. We engage with our customers via digital media. Our focus on communication channels has been mostly digital. We do engage in print but very selectively. But to engage with our audience we focus on digital engagement. Our way of engagement with our customers has to be interactive. We did the Starbucks Funventures campaign. We engaged with certain youth influencers and we promoted our Alphonso Frappuccino because it was all about fun, adventure and youth. We engaged with Sonakshi Sinha, Ranvijay, Saina Nehwal, Raghu Ram of Roadies. We also had a seven activity challenge that customers at the store could engage in. For example, you had to sing a line of your favourite song along with one of our store partners. Those who completed the seven activities would win a hamper,” Vohra explained about their brand promotional activities.

With a long-term vision in mind, Tata Starbucks’ near future plans revolve around improving their promotions and store offerings.  “Going forward we aim to have continuous innovation of our beverages. We will continue to refresh our offerings in terms of food as well. And there will be alot more stores in these cities. We plan to have more innovation and interaction with our customers,” Vohra concluded.

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