Starbucks plans continued expansion in Thailand

As it prepares to celebrate its 20th year of brewing business in Thailand, Starbucks, the globally renowned coffee chain from the United States will continue its steady expansion throughout the Kingdom by focusing on opening new stores in hospitals and commuter rail stations, the company’s managing director in Thailand said last week.

“Starbucks’ coffee business in Thailand over the past 19 years has been healthy. We are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary next year and plan to continue growing our business here,” said Murray Darling, managing director of Starbucks Coffee Thailand.

A healthy coffee business in Thailand is no small feat considering that when Starbucks entered the Thai market, tea was far more popular among the average Thai consumer than coffee. “Twenty years ago, if you wanted a coffee outside the house, your only option in Bangkok was a hotel,’’ a columnist for the Bangkok Post wrote recently.

Thai tastes have changed dramatically during the past two decades. In 1990, Thais consumed 172,000 60 kilogram bags of coffee, but by 2016 that figure had risen to 1.3 million bags, according to the Statista website. The Kingdom consumes almost as much coffee as all of China, but far less than Japan or Indonesia.

The International Coffee Association said that since 1990, “Asia has experienced the most dynamic growth in coffee consumption in the world, growing by an average of 4 percent a year, and 4.9 percent a year since 2000.” The association estimated that Thailand’s coffee consumption has grown between 7 and 10 percent a year over the past decade.

Starbucks has benefited from the change in Thai tastes, but the American brand can also claim to have been an agent of that change. Younger Thais, seeking new and different experience and products, took to the brand and drinking Starbucks coffee or meeting at a Starbucks was seen as a status symbol or something hip or cool among the new generation.

From one shop in Bangkok’s central business district 19 years ago, Starbucks now has 314 cafes nationwide. Company executives did not disclose how many new shops they expect to open in the next few years, but said it would probably exceed the 40 stores opened in 2017. To fuel its expansion, Starbucks plans to open in more diverse locations.

“Traditionally, customers have seen us in shopping malls and office buildings, but now the company is extending to places like hospitals. We operate 15 stores in hospitals out of the total 314 Starbucks nationwide as of November. And plans are afoot to open another five stores in hospitals,’’ Darling said.