Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The most caffeinated time of the year: The history of Starbucks' holiday cup

November 29, 2021
<p>Two of the four Starbucks 2021 holiday cups outside of the MSU Union. </p>

Two of the four Starbucks 2021 holiday cups outside of the MSU Union.

Photo by Madison Norfleet | The State News

Around this time of the year, there are two things in the air: chill and the holiday spirit.

One thing to fix the problem of walking to class in the freezing cold is an extra hot coffee from Starbucks. Starbucks has all the holiday cheer a coffee lover could ask for with their new special holiday-designed cups.

Every year since the launch of the first set of holiday cups in 1997, Starbucks has come out with new designs to encapsulate the holiday spirit for every customer. Each year, the company releases multiple designs for customers to enjoy and guess which one they'll get with every drink.

The first cup in the '90s sported a green color with intricate swirl designs. While the rest changed the pace with a new, all-red theme, creating the idea of the modern holiday cup that consumers see today. This red cup is seen to be iconic as the quintessential and exciting holiday drink phenomenon.

"Customers tend to develop a favorite cup with each release," Nitasha Cox, a worker at the Wells Hall Starbucks said. "There are usually three to four different designs."

The 2021 holiday cups follow the exclusively red theme while also featuring designs such as ribbons and polka dots. However, this year the designs offer a new element to the cup: a tag where the customer's name can go.

"This year the holiday cup has a little tag on it, trying to get back to the Starbucks mission and values with those particular things and customizing things and treating everybody as an individual," Sydney Cronkhite, the 1855 Place Starbucks manager said.

These cups also come from the magic of customer participation in the creativity and tradition of the holiday season at Starbucks.

"That's a customer who designed that cup, so they keep the customers in mind and the customers are also a part of it," Cox said.

These cups have also increased business for Starbucks, over the years they have embraced the holiday spirit.

"When the holiday drinks release, we end up getting way more business, people are willing to wait longer in line ... and then they (Starbucks) do holiday cup giveaways, so that brings more people in," Cronkhite said.

Cronkhite also said that while this large corporation obviously takes their profits into consideration, they also prioritize how the customer feels and makes them feel excited with the nostalgia of the holiday spirit.

However, this tradition doesn't just end with the customer. Starbucks works to bring the baristas into the joy of the season as well.

"There's something really special about totally flipping the store and the next day coming in and being like 'It's holiday time,'" Cronkhite said.


She said that her team has a tradition of gathering together to explore their shipment of holiday-themed cups and they bond over the fun of keeping them a secret from the customers until the launch.

Cox says that these traditions year after year bring the staff closer together during the stressful period of the holidays.

"If the staff is happy, they're fostering a happy coffee shop, and in turn hopefully our customers can pick up on that cheeriness," Cox said.

While Cox claims that these cups are just something cute for the customers that resembles the holiday season, Starbucks has found themselves under scrutiny throughout the history of the cups for pushing a holiday agenda over centering around one holiday: Christmas.

While some believe that this is adding to the phenomenon of the 'War on Christmas,' most consumers stand behind the mission that Starbucks intended with these inclusive cups: "a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity" and "to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world."

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"I think Starbucks does a good job of making holiday drinks, not Christmas drinks," Aditi Kulkarni, a long time fan of Starbucks, said.

Kulkarni said that while December is usually reduced to holidays, she can appreciate that Starbucks expresses this interest in depicting other cultures and a holiday season rather than the Christmas season.

No matter what holiday is celebrated, the most important factor is the nostalgia and comfort, knowing that every year, there is a constant feeling of the holiday spirit in at least one place.

Kulkarni has been drinking Starbucks and the holiday drinks since she was six, starting with the hot chocolate.

"Whenever Starbucks releases the new holiday drinks, it's a sense of comfort and sense of season, like winter is finally here," she said.

Cronkhite said that the marketing Starbucks engages in during the holidays has a purpose to get customers thinking about what is special at this time like giving thanks to each other and bringing the holiday spirit to the stores.

"I know that when Starbucks launches their drinks, it's holiday season," Cronkhite said.

The importance of the tradition and excitement of new cups and drinks just coming out of time where nothing was certain is appreciated by Starbucks customers and spreads new hope in a time where some can get wrapped up in the stress of the holiday season. Knowing there's a coffee right around the corner can ease the nerves.

"I told my friend the world may suck sometimes, but how can I not be happy when there's specialty lattes," Kulkarni said.


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