Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I admit I'm partial to Starbucks. Californian Starbucks, that is.
When I travel, my almond milk latte doesn't taste as good in, for example, New York. In London, it's actively undrinkable. Still, if I have an early-morning flight, or if I'm wandering through an airport while changing planes, I'll often seek out a Starbucks as a safe option.
This option may not be as safe in the future. You see, the proliferation of Starbucks at America's airports was thanks to an exclusive deal with a company called HMSHost. This is the company that operates many of the concessions at airports.
After 30 years, however, HMSHost has decided to end its exclusive deal with Starbucks.
HMSHost offered a difficult statement on the subject, transmitted by the Moodie Davitt Report:
HMSHost informed Starbucks of the plan to move away from exclusivity in an effort to broaden our portfolio of coffee brands based on what consumers and airport partners are demanding.
Wait, people don't want Starbucks anymore? I thought we were Keeping America Great, not slicing off one of its fundamental pillars.
HMSHost wielded the hammer a touch more by explaining that its decision was based on "increased consumer interest in local, sustainable and customized options in the popular coffee category."
I want to peer into the underbelly here. I fear that at least some of this rupture may be due to a slightly diminished rapture toward the famous coffee brand and a heightened appreciation of supposedly artisan beans.
However, the suggestion that both consumers and airports want a broader portfolio of coffee brands reminds me of the way San Antonio spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep out Chick-fil-A.
Now when I say San Antonio, I don't mean the airport. I mean the local government, which runs the airport. So far, it's reportedly spent $315,000 in its battle against a company that doesn't have the most enlightened reputation when it comes to LGBT issues.
Which leads me to wondering whether other local governments have pressed the airports they run to drift away from large corporate brands and give local coffee shops more exposure.
Naturally, I asked Starbucks for its views. A spokesman told me:
Though no longer our exclusive airport industry licensed partner, we will continue to do business together with HMSHost. As we grow our store footprint in airports, we will be working with HMSHost and other operators who have a track record of elevating the customer experience and innovating in the channel, and we look forward to being able to incorporate our digital capabilities at our airport stores in the future.
Well, of course. For many Starbucks customers, there's little more painful than not being able to order their coffee via an app.
This isn't to suggest many airport Starbucks will disappear as swiftly as a tall non-fat latte on a cold day.
Clearly, Starbucks can now negotiate with other concessionaires in the hope of being part of their offering. Its statement suggests it'll attempt to use its very advanced digital magic to persuade localities not to be so parochial. (Update: This week, Starbucks announced non-exclusive partnerships with airport concession operators Paradies Lagardère and OTG. This, of course, still leaves open to question which airports will host your beloved Starbucks in the future.)
Some might snort, though, that an airport should reflect its locality and even be a sales tool for it. So why have any chain names at all?
In which case Starbucks may find it a little harder to be persuasive. Then again, I recently flew out of San Francisco Airport and tried a non-Starbucks, presumably local, latte.
It was terrible.