Cities across the U.S. are often associated with specific food items. In Wisconsin, it’s cheese. Philadelphia is famous for its cheesesteaks. And Seattle, Starbucks hometown, is known for coffee.
Starbucks is working with entrepreneurs across the country who have made names for themselves by creating desserts, savory snacks and beverages that are popular in their local communities. Offering these locally relevant products in select Starbucks stores provides a familiar treat for customers while also helping small businesses grow.
“We are discovering wonderful products that are beloved in specific neighborhoods,” said Deb Hannah, director, Retail Branded Partnerships. “We’ve been able to offer them in a small number of our stores to the delight of our customers.”
Hannah and her teams in Seattle and New York – who are a self-proclaimed bunch of foodies – seek out products, but also take suggestions from customers and sometimes even their friends.
“We act pretty quickly to get products in our stores to test after we’ve done the initial vetting process,” said Hannah. “We look at how much volume a company can support, what their business looks like and determine if they pass Starbucks quality and safety audits.”
New food and beverages are tested at a small number of Starbucks stores for an average of eight weeks. This provides enough time for the team to determine the products’ potential. “Our evaluation process is pretty straightforward,” Hannah said. “If the team finds them delicious and our customers agree, we sell them in our stores.”
Hannah enjoys watching these small businesses thrive. “It’s about letting local entrepreneurs realize their American Dream,” she said. “It’s about facilitating job and business growth.”
Hannah and team have already found success with Natalie’s Cakes & More in Ferguson, Missouri, Charles Chocolates in San Francisco, California, and New York-based Bantam Bagels.
Responding to a Community Need
In a small community of stores in New York and New Jersey, customers were asking for Cholov Yisroel, also known as “super kosher” milk. Cholov Yisroel is an additional kosher certification provided for dairy products that have been under constant rabbinic supervision from the time of milking the cows until the completion of production and packaging. Hannah and her New York team began looking for a vendor who could provide this Cholov Yisroel milk.
“The number of requests for Cholov Yisroel was growing at a rapid pace in a select number of the stores in my region,” said Ross Shadix, Starbucks regional vice president. “I sought help from Deb’s team to explore whether we could serve this customer need.”
After partnering with a local super kosher dairy supplier, the team determined that they could provide the Cholov Yisroel safely and to standard, and that the additional certification has no impact on the flavor of the dairy for non-kosher customers. An eight-week test is underway in seven stores in New York and New Jersey.
“I look forward to learning what customers think about this new offering during the test,” Shadix added. “We are always looking for opportunities to demonstrate that we understand the communities we serve by offering food and beverages that are locally relevant.”
Continuing a Southern Tradition
Kim Kaiser grew up in Statesboro, Georgia, and spent much of her time in the kitchen with her great-grandmother and grandmother learning how to preserve and cook.
“Cheese straws were always my favorite snack as a child and I am very thankful I took the time to learn how to cook them from my grandmother before she passed away,” said Kaiser. “Just about every good Southern cook has a cheese straw recipe but making them has become a lost art.”
Kaiser’s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced at a very young age, starting with a neighborhood lemonade stand and progressing to a jewelry business in middle school. For 13 years, she taught high school accounting, while selling her cheese straws on the side. In 2014, she made what many told her was a risky decision to focus on cheese straws fulltime.
“It was a great move for me. Over the past two years, I have won multiple awards for my cheese straws,” Kaiser said. “I am also on track to quadruple revenue this year.”
Starbucks learned about Kaiser after doing a search for cheese straw vendors. Her version of the southern snacks was selected by Deb Hannah and her team. Kim’s Cheese Straws appear in Starbucks stores for a test, and have the potential to be a regular offer.
“Getting my product out to more people would be absolutely amazing,” said Kaiser. “I would love to have a part in more people having the opportunity to enjoy a quintessential southern snack.”