|Source: Wall Street Journal|
The Wall Street Journal reports that Starbucks has acquired a 600 acre coffee farm in Costa Rica. You might ask: Why is Starbucks backward integrating? They probably do not think they can operate the supply chain more efficiently through vertical integration. They certainly aren't going to obtain a significant amount of coffee beans through one 600 acre farm. What are they doing?
They are learning, experimenting, and innovating. It's a terrific reason to engage in partial/limited backward integration. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explained, "We are talking about doing innovative things we would not be able to do without this farm." Craig Russell, a Starbucks senior vice president, explained that the company would try to identify ways to address a fungus problem that is affecting coffee farm yields in Central America: "It's a dynamic situation and we will absolutely use this farm for testing different methodologies and ways to use new types of coffee trees we've developed that have become more disease- and rust-resistant." Finally and most importantly, Starbucks intends to share what they learn about the fungus with other farmers, so that coffee bean production improves overall for the industry.
This example demonstrates that a small bit of vertical integration (backward) can be very effective as a means of innovation and experimentation. Many companies simply view vertical integration from the perspective of its immediate effect on the bottom line. Ironically, many of those efforts actually decrease profits much to the chagrin of senior executives. Of course, many of those efforts are not small experiments. They are bold moves down without a good pilot to test the concept. In this case, a small bit of experimentation could yield large improvements in profits over time.