From an external perspective, it might seem contradictory that, even though many brands talk about going green with things ranging from disposable straws to reusable tumblers and paper cups, Starbucks remains predominantly reliant on plastic. But there’s more to the story. Starbucks is actively fulfilling its environmental responsibilities, but there’s a crucial missing piece to the puzzle: they need support from their loyal customers to make it work.
In the latest episode of the Vietnam Innovators podcast, Patricia Marques, the General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam, shared her remarkable journey of becoming a prominent figure in the Vietnamese coffee industry. Patricia’s story began with a pivotal phone call from a friend, an ex-colleague from Starbucks, who was coming to Vietnam to take over a local company and needed her assistance. This serendipitous call marked the start of Patricia’s journey in Vietnam, where she has been for over 13 years, with nearly 11 of those years as the General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam.
In this episode, the General Manager also took a deeper dive into the sustainability discussion and shared what they do at Starbucks Vietnam. And although these practices may not be too familiar to most of the population, they are just as effective and well-thought-out.
More than just banning plastic use
Like the rest of the world, Patricia and her team at Starbucks Vietnam utilized recyclable plastic, marking the first step in their efforts to be more environmentally responsible. But they didn’t stop there; they took additional measures to reduce their environmental footprint.
Since its establishment on February 1, 2013, Starbucks Vietnam has been committed to promoting sustainability. One of their enduring initiatives, prominently featured on their menu boards, offers a VND10,000 rebate to customers who bring their reusable tumblers. Remarkably, this program has been running for a decade, yet its adoption rate remains relatively low, as candidly acknowledged by Patricia.
Did you know that 85% of Starbucks Vietnam customers consume beverages within the store premises?
Because of that, Starbucks Vietnam has come up with and has been implementing yet another initiative: “Cups for cups and glasses.” Patricia encourages customers to choose “for here” instead of “to go” when placing orders. Under this initiative, drinks are served in durable ceramic or glass cups when enjoyed within the store, replacing disposable paper or plastic cups. This environmentally conscious shift not only minimizes waste but also promotes a culture of thoughtful consumption, setting the stage for a more sustainable coffee experience.
Switching to Vietnamese Coffee Beans
This is an unexpected fact, but when Starbucks came to Vietnam, a huge coffee producer, they didn’t use Vietnamese coffee beans at first.
In the discussion with Hao Tran, Patricia explained this by saying that Starbucks, being a big coffee company worldwide, had buyers who traveled to different countries, including Vietnam, but they weren’t buying Vietnamese coffee beans initially. This was because Vietnam produced many coffee beans for various businesses, but Starbucks needed something different.
Patricia then told the story of how Starbucks decided to change that. She described how her team visited the coffee-rich Highlands of Vietnam, where local coffee farmers work hard. They decided to involve these Vietnamese coffee farmers in Starbucks’ business.
At Starbucks Vietnam, they wanted everyone, including their new employees, to understand how coffee grows and how much effort goes into it. They also partnered with big coffee organizations to help farmers improve the quality of their coffee beans. This collaboration led to Starbucks introducing its first Vietnamese coffee in 2017, which they are very proud of.
This change is not just happening in Vietnam but might affect Starbucks worldwide. Patricia even shared a fun story about a friend in Switzerland sending her a picture of Starbucks coffee from Dalat, Vietnam, showing how Vietnamese coffee beans are reaching Starbucks worldwide.
Addressing local competition, Patricia expressed deep respect for Vietnam’s vibrant street-side coffee culture. She acknowledged the significance of the small family-run businesses, known for their ambiance and low prices, where people can escape the constant connectivity of the digital age and savor the moment. She emphasized coexistence rather than competition, as Starbucks continues to thrive alongside these local establishments.
Wach the full episode here