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Starbucks and Arizona State University Launching Retail Innovation Center

Starbucks ASU

The forthcoming physical location of the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet. Starbucks press image.

Starbucks and publicly funded Arizona State University are partnering to launch a research center focused on innovation in the design and operations of coffee retail stores.

Named the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet, the research facility is scheduled to open in December 2021 at ASU’s Tempe campus as part of the university’s larger new Global Futures Laboratory.

In an announcement of the collaboration last week, Starbucks said the facility will be leveraged to help the company reach some of its corporate sustainability goals for 2030 and beyond, while serving as an innovation hub for its own retail growth ambitions.

The ASU-Starbucks facility will involve nine Aramark-operated stores on ASU campuses in the Phoenix metropolitan area for piloting retail concepts, including testing innovations in plant-based food and beverage offerings, recycling and reuse, and new technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, according to Starbucks.

“Over the last several years we have been reinventing Starbucks for our future and transforming the way we drive innovation at Starbucks,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in the announcement. “As we continuously focus on elevating the Starbucks Experience [sic.], introducing new and exciting beverage innovation, and reimagining customer experiences both in-store and through more personalized digital relationships, we constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways to give back more than we take, using our power at scale to create a better society in which we all live.”

Despite language used by many coffee sellers regarding environmental “improvement” relating to sustainability initiatives in coffee shops, coffee retail continues to generate disproportionately high carbon emissions, water usage and single-use waste within the traditional coffee supply structure.

There are currently about 33,000 Starbucks stores globally, with the company generating approximately $19.1 billion in net revenues in FY2020, according to the the most recent annual report.  Starbucks is in the midst of what it has consistently referred to as a “North America store portfolio optimization,” with plans to close hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores while focusing on opening more drive-through and quick-service locations.

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