National Food Chains Versus the Locals

In the recent post about Starbucks, Dan alludes to a really good point:
Why should a company be penalized in the realm of public opinion, simply because they are successful?

The questions about fair trade aside for the moment (and they are important questions, to be sure), why is it bad that a national chain plops down right next to a successful small business from the same industry in order to compete with them?

One of the answers is obvious, especially if you’re a small business advocate. Money made at the independent business typically stays in the town in which it was made. An owner of an independent coffee stand often keeps the money in the area, by purchasing from local distributors, using local services, even using a local bank.

Corporate stores often don’t use the same business practices. Money made at the corporate store eventually finds its way to the corporation’s bank account, often many miles, states, or even countries away from the original point of sale.

When a person chooses a Starbucks over a local coffee shop owner, you are contributing less to your local economy, and instead end up sending (some) money to right here to Seattle. As a resident of that fine city, I don’t necessarily mind, but you should realize that there are economic consequences for choosing a national brand over a local one.

But what happens when a national franchise offers a better product over the local option? Should we hold a company in disregard regardless of the quality of their product? Personally I don’t think so.

That being said, in the larger metropolitan areas of this country, there are very few examples of national chains exceeding the quality of food being offered by local restaurants, coffee houses, bakeries or what not. National food corporations, as a practice, don’t like to take risks. Their products have to be as accessible to as many people as possible. If you put too much salt in a dish, and you affect the bottom line. If you make a dish too spicy, you’ll lose customers. Each national product, from Big Macs and a Grand Slam breakfast, from a Coca-Cola to a Starbucks Latte, they are all designed to offend the least amount of people as possible.
In that Starbucks piece, many people stated that they don’t drink their coffee because it tastes burnt. Let me ask one simple question: Why do you think it tastes burnt? Because the majority of Americans like it that way.

What I mean to say here is that don’t hate the national corporations simply because they’re national. Hate them because they offer crappy food…and take money away from your local economies…and claim to be things that they are not …and so on, and so on, and so on.

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