The United States coffee company, Starbucks, opened its first café in continental Europe this week. The American-style coffee shop is located in the very centre of Zurich and follows hot on the heels of a similar venture launched by Aroma late last year.
Until now, it's been hard to get hold of anything more exotic than a cappuccino in Switzerland but all that is about to change with Starbucks' entry into the coffee market.
The Seattle based company is offering more than 20 coffee-based beverages made from a selection of 12 different coffee varieties in its three level café on Limmatquai.
The Starbucks brand, named after a popular character in the Hermann Melville novel "Moby Dick", has become a well-known feature of British high streets in the last three years but the Zurich shop is the first in mainland Europe.
"Our entry into continental Europe is very important to us," says Mark McKeon, President of Starbucks Europe, Middle East and Africa. "Switzerland is at the heart of the cultural coffee-house experience and we've found the perfect partner here in the Bon Appetit Group.
"The lessons drawn from the Swiss market can be applied across Europe," he adds.
Starbucks is planning to open shops in six other European countries over the next 12 months. By 2003, it hopes to have 650 outlets across mainland Europe.
It also plans to open more shops across Switzerland - the first in the French-speaking part of the country should open in 2002.
The company only entered the beverages market in 1988 with 11 stores and 100 employees in Seattle. Now it has more than 4,000 shops in more than 20 countries.
Switzerland already has a strong culture of drinking coffee. Starbucks says it aims to complement that tradition rather than kill it off.
"The 20 coffee beverages we offer can't yet be found in Switzerland so we'll be expanding the business," says Mark Salathé, the managing director of Swiss-Star, the company set up by Starbucks and Bon Appetit to run the Swiss operation.
The store will also offer food but Starbucks' Zurich customers won't necessarily feel too far away from home.
"Of course we'll have American foods like scones, muffins and brownies," says Salathé. "But we'll also have birchermuesli and cakes and pies traditional to Zurich.
"When we go to Bern and Geneva," he adds, "we'll be changing our lines to reflect regional tastes too."
The entrance of Starbucks into the Swiss market will certainly put the heat on McDonalds after the launch of its Aroma coffee shop late last year.
The newcomers may leave traditionalists steaming, but buying a coffee in Switzerland may never be the same experience again.
by Michael Hollingdale