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  • Writer's pictureLive Oak Management

Starbucks and its International Public Relations in France

By: Anelisa Holder, Account Executive

Starbucks is a multinational company that has over 32,000 locations in 80 countries around the world, according to Starbucks’ website.

According to “Starbucks’ Dream of a Global Taste” by Nissrine Fariss, the company brands itself as the superior coffee brand for unique people who are tired of mainstream brands. Starbucks targets customers who want to belong to a community of people who want high quality coffee, ethical coffee production and a “third place” to hang out besides work or the home.

Coffee and cafés are an integral part of French culture, so where people enjoy their coffee is important. For example, the French will often pay more money to sit at a café’s outside dining, so that they can people-watch. According to Statista, 52% of French people drink one to three cups of coffee each day. As reported by Kleinman, French people prefer to drink espressos and enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee instead of taking it to-go. This differs from Americans who often buy coffee in drive-thrus or sit inside a café to do work.

Due to these differences in café culture, Starbucks stores in France offer much more seating (see photo below) than American stores because the French enjoy sitting down to chat with friends. Starbucks France’s menu offers unique food and drinks, including a peanut butter frappuccino, frozen mango and pineapple iced tea, croissant sandwich with cheese and peppers and french toast (what they call “Brioche façon Pain Perdu”).

As a multinational company (MNC), it’s important to understand different countries’ language, culture and customs. Even a successful company like Starbucks can’t expect to relocate to another country without first interpreting the culture. MNCs must balance staying true to their mission and product while also effectively communicating with the new host country’s customers.

Starbucks has had its fair share of international failures. In Australia, Starbucks didn’t fully comprehend the country’s established “coffee culture,” causing 73% of stores to close in 2008 due to low quality customer service, not correctly interpreting Australian culture and tastes, a lack of a clear “brand,” and growing too quickly.

In China’s Forbidden City, one famous blogger led the movement in closing a Starbucks location (pictured below). To the Chinese, Starbucks’ brand was an intrusion in the highly revered historic site. Starbucks not only failed to understand the unique culture of the Forbidden City, but also failed to conduct social listening on Chinese media platforms.

So, what about in France? Many Starbucks customers there are either tourists looking for something familiar or young people trying to be cool. Many French people see Starbucks as an affront to their rich coffee culture. In a 2019 study, researchers discovered that “the French café is something to be cherished. It is part of our identity many things in France, we are losing our history, our heritage.”

Another said, “It’s a place for Bobos (slang for ‘bohemian bourgeoisie’) who are just so superficial. They just want to be seen as being cool but they are in fact so uncool.”

In a country like France that holds street cafés dear to its heart, it will be a challenge for any non-French coffee chain to enter the market and effectively communicate with its customers. Starbucks has adapted its menu, store design and social media to meet its French customers’ needs. Starbucks France may never win everyone over, but consumers do appreciate when companies at least try to understand them and their needs when communicating.

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