Starbucks versus Caribou is an age old debate, though the differences between the two can seem minute to the untrained eye. In a competitive market, it can’t be surprising that the rivalry has created two very similar chains. However, a closer look at Caribou offers evidence in its favor that can’t be discounted.
The most obvious criteria when assessing coffee shop superiority must be beverage quality; I believe that Caribou’s drinks are better, though this includes a hefty range of beverages to examine. While people may rave about Starbucks’ holiday cups, what they contain is much more important than their exterior. For example, I am a firm believer in the fact that Caribou has always had significantly better hot chocolate than Starbucks. The flavor is much richer and more robust as the company focuses more on their flavors than the excessive sugar content that Starbucks favors. The whipped cream alone is reason enough to choose Caribou; it’s on an entirely different level than Starbucks’. Also, the seasonal Ho Ho Mint Mocha far exceeds any of Starbucks’s mochas. Overall, the drinks are simply better—more flavorful, rich, and innovative.
A comprehensive look at coffee brands must include factors beyond product taste. Most coffeeshops today are essentially treated as coworking spaces. This is another area that I find Caribou excels at. Take one look at the new location on Vernon Avenue, complete with an electric fireplace, and you would find difficulty in disagreeing that Caribou doesn’t offer a great atmosphere. Their locations typically offer a variety of seating options and useful amenities like electrical outlets at every table. Beyond even this, Caribou is much more homey than Starbucks. While it does offer a relaxing environment, this is brought to a literal sense with the realization that Caribou was started in Edina and remains a largely Minnesota-based company. According to the Caribou website, Minnesota contains an overwhelming 298 of the company’s 465 locations, even as Caribou has expanded to 18 more states. The aforementioned Vernon Avenue location even has a large Edina themed mural on the wall behind its shop. Caribou is personalized to Minnesota in a way Starbucks could never be.
It can be easy to look at a brand new building like the Vernon Avenue Caribou and say that it has a good atmosphere; however, I find this to be consistent across most locations. Many have a trivia question every day, which doesn’t offer a bountiful award ($0.05) but nevertheless introduces something a hectic Starbucks location can’t offer. A lot of stores have quirky activities similar to this, such as the Caribou on France Avenue, which has a checkers table and chalkboard question that you can answer.
Beyond atmosphere, price is also a large component to consider when taking into account your coffee choices, and Caribou’s rewards program consistently offers better deals. These include size upgrades or even something as simple as $1-2 off. Starbucks rarely offers similar discounts to their customers. They also require a grand 150 points (a $75 equivalent) to acquire a free drink through their rewards while Caribou only requires 120 points (a $60 equivalent).
Furthermore, looking at a brand’s sourcing could potentially be one of the most important factors to consider. As of 2012, the farms Caribou sources from are all Rainforest Alliance Certified, according to BusinessWire. In order to attain a certification of this nature, farms are required to practice environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This proves that Caribou goes beyond the average coffee shop and takes their responsibility in promoting sustainability seriously. While Starbucks now has similar standards, Caribou was the first major coffee shop chain to source coffee 100% sustainably.
Overall, Caribou’s higher quality beverages are backed by ethical standards, they offer more deals through their rewards program, and the company offers better location atmosphere; Caribou far surpasses Starbucks in nearly every criteria.