Starbucks is the new Tobacco
January 3, 2009
Most people in my social circle have varying degrees of disdain towards Starbucks as a force for cultural homogenization, particularly as the company is perceived as competing with the local coffee shops that they hold so dear.
I don't share this particular criticism of the company. In fact, I think Starbucks often treats its employees as well or better than a lot of smaller, less-stable employers, and there's obviously a big difference in goals for the drinks they serve, with Starbucks optimizing for consistency and independent shops (theoretically, at least) optimizing for quality.
But. There is one criticism of Starbucks that I have which seems to be mostly ignored, and which, if I were an executive at the company, I'd think poses a much greater threat to the future success of the franchise.
The fact is, Starbucks sells a line of products which are, to varying degrees, fairly unhealthy when consumed regularly and quite frequently contain very high amounts of addictive caffeine. While the chain does make fairly complete nutritional information available, that information is not prominently displayed in stores except where required. (Here in New York City, all chain restaurants are required to post caloric information.)
This means that, as obesity becomes much more of a public welfare issue and the focal point for improved legislation, it's quite conceivable that Starbucks could bear the brunt of a public backlash against selling high-calorie, addictive foods. Obviously, fast food restaurants like McDonald's already bear