BOGOTA — After a long, drawn-out build-up, Starbucks has confirmed it will be coming to Colombia. The arrival of Howard Schultz’s company’s in the South America country famous for its coffee production will be the start of a very interesting showdown with local chain Juan Valdez — as well as all the small coffee shops that are the national setting of first dates, business meetings, catch-ups with friends and the general comings and goings of those of us who are enamoured with the café-magic.
Betting is now open, as in Colombia we have coffee shops based on 1,000 different concepts. So many, in fact, that the Juan Valdez chain’s unique selling point is not the experience of going to a certain type of café, nor imaginary sensations, but the product itself — coffee — presented in different ways and with different intensities. This is what makes it different.
But what will happen once Starbucks arrives?
Social networking sites give us a fair idea of how the clash of the two titans is likely to play out. Many are optimistic: They believe that Colombia is currently experiencing a very positive period of economic development and that Starbucks’s arrival may prompt many more companies to consider setting up shop.
The slightly less optimistic say that Juan Valdez will be significantly affected by the arrival of a new competitor, even though Starbucks coffee (according to those in the know) offers neither great taste, a strong background of collaborating with coffee growers, or toy donkeys.
But Colombians love novelty, which may cause Juan Valdez to start shaking in his boots, because if we jog our memories, when McDonalds arrived in the country, the queues to buy a burger were ridiculously long. However, even though the multinational seemed to have a bright future in Colombia, as time passed, that early fascination wore off. The long lines are long gone, and McDonalds has had to drop their prices in order to attract people’s attention again.
Within the marketing world, the arrival of Starbucks in Colombia is comparable to a World Cup final: the two best teams, facing off for the first time, battling it out for total victory.
For the moment we will just have to wait and see whether the 167 Juan Valdez shops in Bogota can cope with the insurgent six cafés that Starbucks has announced it will be opening in the capital by mid-2014. We will also have to wait and see exactly what Colombians, for whom paying steeply for coffee is unheard of, think of the American brand. Starbucks in the land of coffee beans, a strange brew indeed.