Campus brews up Starbucks

The newest Starbucks, at Johnson and Division Streets, opened in the fall of 2005.
The newest Starbucks, at Johnson and Division Streets, opened in the fall of 2005.

Students who dislike walking those few extra blocks for their Starbucks fix may soon be appeased. A recent decision by the Food Committee is resulting in a trial period of serving Starbucks coffee in select Sodexho outlets on campus.

Not everyone is pleased with this possible addition to the cafeteria menu, however.

Dave Thomas, SGPS president, said there has not been enough public discussion on the topic at the student level.

“There needs to be, in my mind, a public discussion or debate about issues such as this, especially when we’re inviting large corporations to come on to campus,” he said. “People need to be aware

that it’s happening—they need to be involved in the decision-making processes.” According to Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, the trial would be part of Starbucks’ “We Proudly Brew” program. The company would supply coffee beans, a brewer and a sign reading “We Proudly Brew Starbucks Coffee,” which would be appended to the brew pot containing the coffee.

“It’s a way of introducing the brand,” he said. “You’re not getting the full product, you’re getting one of their coffees, which in our case would be a fair trade Starbucks brand.”

It will probably be set up in the Mackintosh-Corry Hall cafeteria, and possibly in Goodes Hall as well, Griffiths added.

Griffiths said the trial takes about three weeks to set up, and hopes it will be ready following Reading Week.

It would probably run for about a month and be reviewed by the Food Committee in late March or early April.

Griffiths said if the committee decides to continue serving Starbucks coffee, it will probably not be made available at additional outlets on campus.

Griffiths added that Sodexho is planning on replacing its current coffee brand, the Gourmet Bean, with another supplier, so the University would see a new coffee brand regardless of Starbucks’ presence.

The issue of selling Starbucks coffee on campus was first raised at Food Committee meetings in October and November, Thomas said.

“[Griffiths] raised it as something he was thinking about and that we might want to discuss briefly,” Thomas said. “At that time I raised some concerns and some opposition to the idea, based on what I explained to be in my opinion a poor record on the corporate social responsibility of Starbucks … [and] also on the grounds of what some people are beginning to see as a corporatization of campus.”

Thomas said he got the feeling from those two meetings that the issue was negatively received and had been dropped.

“We all had the sense that the issue was dead—that the idea had been questioned thoroughly enough that it was over,” he said.

Griffiths said reactions to the idea in meetings before winter break were less than enthusiastic, and he had been planning on dropping the issue when he had a meeting with Queen’s Project on International Development (QPID) regarding the group’s proposed fair trade purchasing policy. He said he asked the group about their thoughts on Starbucks.

“The idea came up, well, if you were going to have Starbucks, why wouldn’t you have just their fair trade coffee?” Griffiths said. “So I thought, well, that was kind of an idea that I hadn’t really thought of, so I brought that to the committee in January.”

Julia Brian, a master’s student in geography, joined the Food Committee in January. She said that when the issue of Starbucks on campus was raised during the committee’s January meeting, she got the impression that it had already been decided.

“The scenario was presented like, ‘OK, this is a dialogue about something that’s happening anyway,’” she said.

Following that meeting, Griffiths said, the consensus seemed to be to pursue a trial period of serving Starbucks products.

Some have contested the procedure of this discussion, however.

Amanda Wilson, ArtSci ’07 and QPID social action commissioner, said the Social Action Committee met with Griffiths in December regarding QPID’s proposal to have a fair trade option at every retail location on campus, and that Griffiths brought up the issue of bringing Starbucks to campus.

“We weren’t aware that there was substantial opposition to the issue from people on the Food Committee,” she said. “My comment of, ‘bring in the Starbucks fair trade option’ was made under the assumption that they were going to bring in Starbucks either way.”

Wilson said her group suggested other coffee options, but that Griffiths was looking for a brand name option.

“Given the coffee companies that do have brand power, Starbucks is the only one that has a fair trade option,” she said. “The idea of needing a brand-name coffee company on campus, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a thing that students need or that I would be in support of.”

Wilson said the committee told Griffiths that if the University was going to bring in Starbucks, it should accept only the fair trade option.

“That support for fair trade coffee … made it seem as if we were in support of Starbucks on campus,” she said.

Griffiths said any perceived misrepresentation of his meeting with QPID was inadvertent. In an e-mail he sent to Wilson, and also gave to the Journal, he wrote that “it has not been my will nor will it be my intention to suggest that QPID was supportive of Starbucks but rather that you gave me some advice of fair trade in general and that we had a discussion about what might be an acceptable way to bring Starbucks to the campus.”

Thomas said Griffiths agreed that the only Starbucks coffee that would be sold would be from their fair trade assortment, which he thinks will appease a lot of people who would otherwise have problems with having Starbucks sold on campus.

However, he said that while Starbucks has bowed to outside pressure and now offers fair trade coffee, there are still concerns regarding its corporate practices.

“There are plenty of people talking about the predatory nature of where they set up their stores and why,” he said, referring to the Kingston Starbucks locations beside the Sleepless Goat on Princess Street and across from Coffee and Company on Division Street.

“There’s a number of important things about Starbucks, not just the fair trade issue.” Brian agreed that Starbucks’ practices in eliminating the competition, evident in their choice of location, are ethically questionable.

She said she raised some concerns regarding Starbucks’ competition strategy during the Food Committee’s January meeting, but felt they were not taken seriously.

“I brought up some points that didn’t have anything to do with Starbucks’ fair trade issue or fair trade coffee, it was more to do with the ethics of the competition strategy,” she said. “They seemed to think this would only be a concern to certain people, whatever ‘certain people’ means.”

Griffiths acknowledged that some students might have concerns about Starbucks’ corporate practices, but said it’s difficult to make decisions on that in the absence of a policy.

“One thing that was raised was how [Starbucks] chooses to locate their stores to compete directly with smaller groups,” he said. “[But] there is no guidance on campus that says we won’t do business with any company that has X business practice.”

Griffiths said there is no current University policy that would prevent it from serving Starbucks products.

Thomas said he thinks there remains a need for further discussion on this issue.

“There’s some substantial issues that need to be discussed,” he said. “There needs to be more public engagement and debate about whether or not we are simply following the ways of the market when we’re bringing things onto campus.”

Jennifer Holub, AMS social issues commissioner, spoke with Thomas about his concerns, and agreed there should be more discussion on this topic.

“It’s a topic that definitely needs to be questioned,” she said. “You can’t just forge through and put this on campus without a fair and transparent process of deliberation.”

Holub said she’d like to see a forum organized by students to discuss Starbucks’ possible presence on campus and increase awareness about this issue.

“I think a lot of students would be excited about the possibility of having Starbucks on campus—it’s tasty coffee,” she said. “At the same time, I think there are a lot of students who would be very resentful … that’s why discussion needs to happen, that’s why this deliberation needs to involve students.”

Griffiths said while he had not considered having student forums, he thinks the trial period will give the Food Committee a good idea of the student response to Starbucks coffee.

“One thing we don’t want to do is make decisions for people about what they should and shouldn’t buy,” Griffiths said. “We knew there would be some voices that would be concerned so we said, ‘Let people speak not only with their dollars but with their comments.’”

Griffiths said this plan would act as an impetus for students to do research and make an informed decision on this issue, and that the Starbucks option would be kept, or not, according to student reaction to it in the form of e-mail feedback and sales.

“If people decide that’s not something we want on campus, we’re not on contract, we haven’t made an investment,” he said. “I’d certainly like to receive informed feedback and that was part of why we wanted to make it an educational-based program.”

Brian said she is worried about whether the feedback portion of the trial period will be taken seriously.

“One of my main concerns was how many comment cards would it take for you to say it’s a success, or how many comment cards constitute a legitimate backlash?” she said.

“The sales will speak to the demand that exists … they’re running this comment card thing but I think ultimately they’re going to keep it based on the sales numbers.”

Griffiths said that while the committee has not yet determined how they will weigh the feedback with the sales, both factors will be taken into account.

Wilson said she doesn’t think Starbucks is necessarily any worse than other companies, but that it is the idea of bringing another large corporation to campus that worries her.

“The issue isn’t, ‘Starbucks is an awful company and we need to get them off our campus,’ it’s ‘Do we need another brand name on our campus?’”

Proposals to bring Starbucks to campus have been made before. In 2002, a plan was put forward to have a Starbucks outlet in Mac-Corry, and in 1997, a proposal to open a Starbucks in Stauffer Library was rejected after the AMS objected.

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