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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 December, 2003, 13:44 GMT
Starbucks battles for Peruvian elite
By Hannah Hennessy
In Lima

It is late afternoon and most of the customers in Lima's first Starbucks are not ordinary Peruvians.

Starbucks' coffee
One of these will cost two-thirds of most Peruvians' daily wage
They are American students and surfers looking for a home away from home.

"The sounds, the smells, the sights, everything is so alien here. It's like there's something deep inside that craves something familiar. That's why we come here," says one bandana-wearing middle-aged Californian surfer.

There are some locals who can afford to pay two-thirds of Peru's minimum daily wage for a cup of coffee, but even they know it is a luxury for the privileged few.

Starbucks has opened two cafes in the Peruvian capital in the space of just a few months.

For some it is the start of a great success story. But here in a country which produces a large volume of coffee yet consumes surprisingly little, others fear this could be a risky move.

"It's expensive, that's why I don't know how people in Peru are going to afford this. The economic situation isn't too good here. But I wish them luck," says one lady from the upmarket residential district of San Isidro.

Stiff competition

For a start, most Peruvians are not used to the cafe culture.

It's a place where you can really have a good chat, or you can come and read a book, or with you friends and have a nice evening
Jose Andrade
Starbucks
The majority of people in this country know coffee as an export crop, part of a day's work, not part of an evening's entertainment.

And most people who do drink coffee in this country, drink instant.

Nonetheless, the manager of one of the Starbucks outlets here insists the cafe has staying power.

"We believe that people are going to continue coming," says Jose Andrade. "It's a place where you can really have a good chat, or you can come and read a book, or with your friends and have a nice evening."

But Peruvians' traditional lack of interest in drinking coffee is not the only problem. If Starbucks is looking to ensnare Lima's wealthy, it already has stiff competition.

Alternative

Cafe Haiti in the busy district of Miraflores is one of the real alternatives to Starbucks in Lima.

As popular with locals as with tourists, it is a favourite haunt of politicians and wealthy businessmen and women.

By eight in the evening, its tables inside and outside on the terrace overlooking the central park are almost all full.

It is less of a home from home than Starbucks and the chairs are not quite as comfy, but with waiters in bow ties and an extensive - if expensive - food and drinks menu, it is a real treat.

And after more than 40 years of service, it must be doing something right.

People do not necessarily come here for the espressos, but to be seen.

Here, Peruvian women of a certain age share juicy gossip about the latest high society affairs over their cappuccinos, and pop stars rub shoulders with politicians.

Coffee is a luxury good.

Few can afford it and even fewer can afford the lifestyle that goes with it.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Peru
29 Aug 03  |  Country profiles
The Cappuccino Trail
24 Aug 01  |  Business


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