There are more than 30,000 Starbucks partners in Japan. On Saturday, those crafting lattes and blending up Frappuccino beverages will be wearing whimsical eyeglasses in the shape of “99.” Haruka Kitamori, manager of the Tokyo midtown store, fervently hopes that customers will ask why. To leave little to chance, partners will also write “99” on customers’ coffee cups. Surely, she believes, the coffee-cravers will want to know what’s going on.
If customers indulge their curiosity and inquire about the reason for the glasses, baristas will explain that 99 percent of Starbucks coffee is ethically sourced, ensuring that farmers are paid fair wages and that coffee beans are cultivated according to environmentally friendly methods.September is a well-timed opportunity to cleverly get the message out.
“We are so excited to wear these glasses,” said Kitamori, a 15-year partner. “The partners think it’s great fun.”
Japan first celebrated 9/9 in 2015, after brainstorming for creative ways to share Starbucks’ ethical sourcing story to customers. “We were wondering how to communicate to the Japanese customer what we have accomplished,” said Norio Adachi, social impact director for Japan. “The origin story is very far away from Japan. So we tried to convey this information in a unique way.”
In addition to the silliness in stores, Japanese locations will be highlighting single-origin Guatemala Antigua coffee, with its lemon, chocolate and spice notes infused from nutrient-rich volcanic soil.
Those customers that show a special interest in learning more about sustainability can take an “ethical coffee sourcing quiz” that tests them on their knowledge of coffee and how it’s produced. Japanese stores also host small seminars for inquisitive coffee-drinkers who want to find out more in which they learn about Starbucks commitment to strive for 100 percent ethically sourced coffee. The company’s ethical sourcing guidelines, called C.A.F.E. Practices, short for Coffee and Farmer Equity, were developed in 2004 in conjunction with Conservation International, a nonprofit committed to environmental protection. C.A.F.E. Practices lay out economic, social, quality and environmental standards that all Starbucks coffee farmers and suppliers must meet via a third-party verification system. Achieving 100 percent ethical sourcing can be challenging because coffee procurement, from bean to cup, relies on a complex supply chain and farms in remote areas that may not emphasize environmental or social considerations.
“We’re not only celebrating what we’ve been working so long to achieve, but we’re also celebrating that interaction between a customer and a barista,” said Kelly Goodejohn, director for Starbucks ethical sourcing programs. “We’re sharing this aspect of our coffee heritage with our customers, which is something we don’t do that often. Fun events like this allow us to have great conversations with our customers, including about our efforts to reach the last 1 percent.”
Japan’s 9/9 celebrations are independent of any central coordinating team; those countries that want to participate simply opt in. This year, stores in Britain, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and South Africa are joining by writing “99” on customers’ cups.
In London, on the outside of a centrally located Soho store, store manager Becca Turner is creating a chalk art mural, a drawing that depicts farmers and C.A.F.E. Practices guidelines. Turner, who has an art degree, has also designed an image that she’s inked on reusable cups, of the number “99” superimposed on a coffee tree. “I’m hoping it will inspire some discussion,” said Turner, a seven-year partner. “I want it to be a prompt for conversations happening around the coffee.”
Major Cohen, a 22-year partner and coffee ambassador for the China-Asia-Pacific region, has been involved in the 99 percent festivities since their inception. Cohen traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, where he coached hundreds of partners to share the story of how Starbucks coffee is ethically sourced. “I tell people that the way to begin is: ‘Since 1971, we have been buying coffee the right way.’ That is enough for many customers,” said Cohen. “But if a customer says what does that mean, I tell them … (Starbucks) realized we needed to protect our supply of coffee by looking for a sustainable product supply.”
In practice, that’s more information than most customers crave. So Cohen advises partners to “pick whatever is most meaningful to you — the story of a farmer or the story of a social project. Be ready to tell that story because it will come from your heart.”