Starbucks India has announced it is partnering with domestic alt-protein producer Imagine Meats on a range of vegan menu items to be served at the coffee chain’s stores. Already confirmed are sausage croissant rolls, hummus kebab wraps and croissant buns. Stores across 10 locations will receive the plant-based options, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Jaipur and Goa, amongst others.
The coffee chain, a 50:50 joint venture between Tata Consumer Products and Starbucks, operates 270 stores across India. It is one of the latest to embrace the burgeoning appetite for vegan food within India. Imagine Meats brings a built-in celebrity following with it- the brand was founded and is backed by Bollywood husband and wife duo Ritesh and Genelia Deshmukh.
Catering to a growing demographic of vegans
Tata Starbucks cites the increasing demand for vegan products as the driving motivation behind its new partnership. CEO Sushant Dash has acquiesced that although still in the nascent stage, the market for plant-based alternatives is predicted to reach between ₹200-300 crore. Seeking to get in on the ground floor, the company aims to cater to the experimental palates of consumers seeking to try veganism.
“It is about giving consumers the choice and about catering to the segment which is growing,” Dash has previously commented.
Hyderabad, Kolkata, Noida, Gurugram and Pune join the likes of Mumbai and Delhi in getting the new menu items.
Imagine Meats as the right strategic partner
Domestic alt-protein developer Imagine Meats was originally launched to coincide with the Ganesh Chaturthi festival last year. The celebrity-founded startup was founded to create a diverse selection of vegan meats and ready meals to cater specifically to Indian tastes. As such, keemas and kebabs have been developed alongside more standard offerings such as nuggets and burger patties. Imagine Meats use pea protein as the base ingredient. The founders have previously noted that this is key to satiating meat cravings.
Last September, the startup revealed it was keen to forge partnerships with other companies. The announcement of a working relationship with Tata Starbucks indicates growth plans are being realised. The partnership has been a year in the making.
“That Tata Starbucks is following Starbucks internationally in a show of trust towards a fledgling category and enabling consumer choice for smart protein is hugely important, and will no doubt drive further investment from other Indian business houses,” Varun Deshpande, managing director of the Good Food Institute India said in a LinkedIn post.
Starbucks’ chequered history with vegan consumers
On the face of it, Starbucks has been proactive in embracing vegan consumers, at least with its food options. Last year saw the global coffee chain unveil new plant-based menu items in the Middle East and well as Indonesia. Hong Kong has enjoyed plant-based food options since 2020, when it partnered with Impossible Foods. Since then, the coffee giant has partnered with local leaders OmniFoods on new items.
More recently, the chain’s unwillingness to unilaterally drop its plant milk surcharge has led to celebrity pleas and in-store protests. In April, Sir Paul McCartney made a personal request of the then-outgoing Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. In a direct letter, McCartney revealed his shock and disappointment that the surcharge was still in existence, especially given that U.K. and Indian locations had taken the decision to cull it. The request was not fulfilled.
In May, actor James Cromwell staged a ‘glued-in’ protest at a New York Starbucks location. The vegan activist, noted for turning fully plant-based during the filming of Babe, led the charge to end the plant-milk surcharge by supergluing his hands to the serving counter in a central location. The protest was coordinated by PETA, of which Cromwell is the honorary director.
“My friends at PETA and I are calling on Starbucks to stop punishing kind and environmentally conscious customers for choosing plant milks,” Cromwell said at the time, in a press release from PETA. “We all have a stake in the life-and-death matter of the climate catastrophe, and Starbucks should do its part by ending its vegan upcharge.”
To date, no plans to drop the surcharge have been announced by Starbucks globally.
Lead image by Imagine Meats.