Earlier this month, global coffee retailer Starbucks announced the Starbucks Global Partner Emergency Relief Program as part of its $10-million commitment to support its employees around the world who have been impacted by covid-19. In India, Starbucks has a presence through a 50:50 joint venture with Tata Global Beverages, and operates 185 stores. In an interview, the CEO Navin Gurnaney speaks about the crisis and how it is going to change the world. Edited excerpts:
How has your sector been affected by the nationwide lockdown?
These are unprecedented times for all businesses and individuals. However, our focus right now is safety and we are hopeful that business will resume slowly but positively once we overcome this. In keeping with government regulations, we have started delivery from select stores and will continue to thoughtfully expand delivery operations as we move ahead.
Are you planning salary or job cuts? What is your manpower in India?
At Tata Starbucks, we always put our partners (employees) and our customers before everything else. As part of our deeply grounded commitment to partner care, we have extended partner benefits and are offering new resources to support partners and their families in response to the unprecedented impact of covid-19. Partners are being supported with pay and access to medical assistance; those diagnosed with covid-19 will be granted paid leave until they recover fully and cleared to return to work. Additionally, Starbucks has announced a commitment of $10 million to establish the Starbucks Global Partner Emergency Relief Program as part of its ongoing efforts to support partners. We currently stand at more than 2,000 partners in India.
Is India staring at a recession? How severe do you feel it would be?
It will be premature at this stage to discuss about what will happen with the economy. I’m sure, currently, the government and all of us are prioritizing the health of our people over everything else. However, the post-covid-19 phase will see some sectors take longer to bounce back, while all of us emotionally, physically and financially recover from this.
Can consumer demand be revived after the lockdown is lifted? What measures will you take to stay in the game?
This pandemic is going to set a new normal in human behaviour. Even after the crisis blows over, customers are going to take time to recover and come back to their usual routines.
This situation is, however, going to drive digital innovations in a big way. For years, Starbucks globally has one of the best omnichannel retail experiences through concepts like electronic payments, mobile apps, pickup-only stores or third-party delivery networks to make the Starbucks experience more ubiquitous.
At Tata Starbucks, we are using these unique experiences to build our brand and make it ready for the future. The launch of the Starbucks Mobile Order Payment app will allow customers to order beverages on their mobile and just pick them up from the store, reducing the time spent in ordering in lines. We will continue to focus on delivery and also launch India’s first drive thru store to allow customers to engage with the brand in new and innovative ways.
What are the prospects for Starbucks once normalcy returns as people may still be wary of eating out?
We are confident of the relationships we have built with each of our loyal customers and we are certain the Starbucks experience will bring them back. Such a crisis requires us to remain patient, and we are dealing with this on a case-to-case scenario—“one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time”. Whatever we do, we will keep safety of our people as our priority, even after resuming business.
Will life and business as we know them change forever post-covid-19?
The world may not be the same again. The rules of business will change. And brands that can use this opportunity to build a world that is more compassionate, connected, experiential and meaningful will emerge stronger on the other side. Our optimism and commitment to the long-term growth potential in India remains intact during the crisis period.