Starbucks and Alibaba’s tech-powered grocery chain Freshippo are expanding a delivery kitchen concept to the capital city of Beijing as food delivery service grows in importance in one of the world’s largest consumer markets.
As part of the overall Starbucks-Alibaba collaboration announced in August, the “Star Kitchen” is a dedicated delivery kitchen in Hema stores. Orders can be placed via Alibaba’s Freshippo app for delivery or self-pickup.
A kitchen created especially for the fulfillment of delivery orders speeds up delivery times. Alibaba’s food delivery unit Ele.me handles the deliveries, which can reach customers in 30 minutes.
The Beijing expansion follows two “Star Kitchen” openings in Shanghai and Hangzhou in October. The expansion timetable for the partnership is still unclear. Alibaba and Starbucks declined to comment when reached by TechNode on Wednesday.
Freshippo’s fulfillment and delivery capabilities complement Starbucks’ core competence: in-store experiences featuring comfortable spaces with plenty of seating. It offers quick delivery of drinks for consumers that are increasingly turning to delivery orders for staple items such as fresh grocery. The move may prove especially critical at a time when Starbucks’ main rival in China, Luckin Coffee, shifts to an asset-light strategy focused on pick-up order stores.
Pickup stores account for 91% of Luckin Coffee’s total store count. Such stores are typically smaller and have limited seating, so rent and fit-out costs are lower.
Freshippo, which was just relegated to a standalone business unit in an Alibaba reorganization last week, operates a network of 135 self-operated stores in China, primarily located in tier-one and tier-two cities.
“Star Kitchens” are equipped with Starbucks self-serve kiosks where customers can place orders through the Freshippo app and pick up drinks within 15 minutes. Similarly, Luckin is reportedly experimenting with a self-service coffee machine project to fuel its offline expansion.
Facing intensifying competition from China rival Luckin, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in a recent interview with Bloomberg that the company is well-positioned for long-term growth in China, its second-largest and fastest-growing market.