Lady with the Mug
Since Manmeet was handed over the baton to build equity for Tata Starbucks in India, she has not only focussed on branding but also battled regulatory restrictions related to imports of whole bean coffee and other ingredients from three continents.
Neha Dewan | March 2016 Issue | The Dollar Business
The almost feverish pace at the Tata Starbucks office in Mumbai is impossible to miss. Inside the meeting room, a tray of cups with black coffee comes in promptly. “We will first start with coffee tasting which is always done through pure brewed coffee, without adding anything,” says Manmeet Vohra, Director – Marketing & Category at Tata Starbucks India.
Recently, she was certified as a Starbucks Coffee Master, a certification which required her to do an intensive 8 weeks of study, together with demonstrating her knowledge of coffee and food pairings. “As a coffee master, you get a black apron and I have one now,” she says proudly.
Vohra takes us through the various steps of coffee tasting which include smelling the coffee, slurping, locating the experience on the tongue and describing the notes. “Make sure it’s a loud slurp... the Indian chai style slurp, else you will burn your tongue! The idea behind slurping is that it sprays the entire coffee all over your tongue. All these steps are for you to appreciate the characteristics of a coffee called aroma, acidity, body and flavour,” she reasons.
At the helm of marketing affairs, since the last three years, Manmeet has been a part of the rapid expansion of the brand in India. In fact, her forward-thinking brand sensibility and cross-channel marketing expertise has helped her build a strong presence for Starbucks in a dynamic market like India. "The journey has been extremely fast paced, exciting and full of challenges because here you are actually building a brand in a new market, a brand which is an iconic brand in itself globally," says Manmeet.
When asked about Starbucks' future plans for India, she says, "India is one of the fastest growing markets for Starbucks. The vision that Starbucks leadership team in Seattle has is that India should be amongst the top five markets for Starbucks. And at the pace at which we are growing, that vision should be a reality soon." So, what drives this marketing veteran forward? "I look at my job as something that enriches my life more than anything else," says Manmeet. Now, that's a big advice for people with big dreams!
TDB: Take us a bit through your journey at Starbucks. How has it shaped up for you since the time you joined the company three years back?
Manmeet Vohra (MV): I joined in July 2013. And that time we were 20 stores in 2 cities – Delhi and Mumbai. I have been a part of the rapid expansion of Starbucks in India, and today we are at 79 stores in 6 cities. I launched the brand in Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore. I think overall it has been a very exciting journey – the way our customers have embraced Starbucks in every city that we have gone to has been very overwhelming. It was delightful to see the queues forming when we would announce the opening of our first store in a city or in a new location. The journey has been extremely fast paced, exciting and full of challenges because here you are actually building a brand in a new market, a brand which is an iconic brand in itself globally. But to actually establish it keeping the local sensitivities in mind and connecting with the customers locally – that is a very, very exciting challenge in itself and I think for me that was the deciding factor to take on this role in the first place.
TDB: Do you also import any coffee beans or other products?
MV: Yes, we do. Starbucks sources coffee from various parts of the world – Asia Pacific, Africa and Latin America. In India we have chosen about 3-4 flavour profiles which we are importing into India and selling to our customers.
Right now, there is a set of customers who are quite passionate about brewing their coffee at home and having Starbucks at home. In this segment, there is a lot of potential and opportunity to create a higher level of awareness in appreciating coffee. What we do is that we have a lot of these coffee tasting sessions, as well as coffee story telling sessions, in our stores which actually give them an opportunity to appreciate coffee in its truest sense if they would like to brew Starbucks at home.
TDB: Do you feel that there is enough ease of doing business as far as running a foreign brand in India is concerned?
MV: We have faced a few challenges in the country with regards to certain regulatory restrictions for our imports of whole bean coffee and other certain ingredients. And since we would like to offer a larger portfolio of whole bean coffee to our customers, we are working very closely with the authorities to ensure that we are able to work with them and in turn provide the best portfolio to our customers.
TDB: From being the Marketing Director at Tag Heuer to being at the forefront of marketing for an international coffee brand – how did you adapt yourself to this different role and brand category?
MV: There is definitely a match between the values that the two brands represent to its customers, whether its Tag Heuer or Starbucks – it’s about aspiration, it’s about lifestyle. Starbucks is a brand that people aspire to be at. It is a unique third place where people like to spend their time outside of their home and work. And we always say that Starbucks is not a rational purchase, it is an emotional purchase. In effect it is about really building that emotional connect with customers, which is true whether it is Starbucks or Tag Heuer. What I am always conscious of is that I am a custodian of such iconic brands and wherever these brands go, in terms of geographies, it is my responsibility to safeguard the brand image, heritage, positioning, values and culture.
TDB: Being a woman also means a lot of other commitments. How are you able to strike a balance with the multitude of responsibilities?
MV: One thing that I am proud of as a woman is the ability to multitask. And I think that has been scientifically proven that women are better at multi-tasking than men! Also I think our Emotional Quotient (EQ) is also proven to be much more superior. There have been many studies which show that companies with women in leadership positions perform much better financially than other companies. The rationale has a lot to do with EQ, with multi-tasking but more so about infusing team spirit, a spirit of collaboration. In the whole EQ zone, motivation is the only factor that is common to both men and women. But things like self awareness, the ability to collaborate, the ability to put other person’s need first and build teams – all of these EQ constituents are much stronger in women. My passion is what drives me for the brand and I am a self driven person. I look at my job as something that enriches my life more than anything else.
TDB: As per the sourcing and roasting agreement between Starbucks Coffee Company and Tata Coffee, the latter would roast coffee to supply Tata Starbucks and to export to Starbucks Coffee Company. In what way has this agreement helped in enhancing brand profitability and the overall consumer experience?
MV: The agreement or the understanding between Tata Coffee and Starbucks is actually more than an agreement. It is a commitment to the coffee growing communities in India. It is a way to bring forward the high quality Arabica coffee from India into the world of Starbucks. The coffee sourced and roasted in India is actually matched to the specifications of Starbucks. In fact, we have an expert coffee team in Seattle which actually tastes about 600 cups of coffee a day at times! From that point of view, there is a very close partnership between Tata Coffee and Starbucks in ensuring that we are providing the highest level of Arabica coffee within the Starbucks brand profile to the customers here.