Starbucks helping small businesses thrive

by Monica Watrous
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Megpies, Starbucks
 Megpies premium tarts, available in strawberry and cinnamon brown sugar varieties, feature a buttery, flaky crust, jam filling and sweet frosting.

SEATTLE — Starting July 12, Starbucks Corp. will begin selling Megpies premium tarts in 7,500 of its stores nationwide. The pastries, which are available in strawberry and cinnamon brown sugar varieties, feature a buttery, flaky crust, jam filling and sweet frosting. Megpies were developed by Brooklyn artist Meghan Ritchie, who began peddling homemade treats nine years ago.

“My roommate and I started selling donuts from our front stoop only because we thought it would be fun,” Ms. Ritchie said. “To our surprise, things just took off. Soon we were selling donuts once per week to keep up with the demand from commuters who passed by our home.”

Five years ago, after creating her first handheld, jam-filled tart, Ms. Ritchie launched Megpies and began delivering the treats to local cafes from her bike each morning.

Meghan Ritchie, Megpies, Starbucks
Meghan Ritchie began peddling homemade treats nine years ago.

“At this point, I started thinking about what else I wanted to do with my business and how big I wanted it to get,” Ms. Ritchie said. “But it was just me doing everything. I knew that I needed more help.”

So, after a two-year hiatus, she enlisted the help of her business-savvy boyfriend, Paul Jones, who was able to increase purchases of the pastries from 300 a week to 3,000 a week within six months.

In 2014, Starbucks approached Ms. Ritchie about selling Megpies in select New York City stores. After a successful test launch, the coffee chain expanded distribution to 30 locations and then to all company-operated stores in the United States.

Megpies, Starbucks
After Starbucks tested Megpies in its New York cities stores, the chain expanded distribution to 30 locations and then to all company-operated stores in the United States.

Megpies joins more than 15 small brands that have been brought to Starbucks stores through the company’s Retail Branded Partnerships program, which was developed last year to seek out entrepreneurs with innovative food and beverage products to sell in the stores.

“Megpies are so delicious and nostalgic. They take me back to my childhood,” said Deb Hannah, director, Retail Branded Partnerships. “My team and I adore them, so we had a strong feeling that customers would love them, too.”

Other small brands that have landed in Starbucks display cases include Bantam Bagels, which are miniature New York City bagel balls stuffed with cream cheese; Rip van Wafels Dutch-style stroopwafels; and Dog Tag Bakery baguette chips in cinnamon sugar and Parmesan herb varieties.

Bantam Bagels, Starbucks
Bantam Bagels, which are miniature New York City bagel balls stuffed with cream cheese, have also landed a spot in Starbucks bakery cases.

“If we can surprise and delight our customers and also provide a pathway for small businesses, it’s a win-win situation,” said Mesh Gelman, senior vice-president, Retail Branded Partnerships. “With a founder’s passion fueling a product, anything is possible. When someone is authentic, there’s a connection that our team feels, and we know when we’ve met the right company.”

Ms. Hannah and her teams in Seattle and New York seek locally relevant brands but also accept suggestions from Starbucks customers and friends.

“We look at how much volume a company can support, what their business looks like and determine if they pass Starbucks quality and safety audits,” Ms. Hannah said.

Rip van Wafels, Starbucks
Rip van Wafels Dutch-style stroopwafels are sold at Starbucks.

New food and beverages are tested at a small number of stores for about eight weeks following the initial vetting process to determine whether a product may expand to additional locations.

“Our evaluation process is pretty straightforward,” Ms. Hannah said. “If the team finds them delicious and our customers agree, we sell them in our stores.”

At that point, Ms. Hannah and her team work closely with the business to support, mentor and guide it through the process of scaling to sell in Starbucks.

Dog Tag Bakery, Starbycks
Dog Tag Bakery baguette chips in cinnamon sugar and Parmesan herb varieties also appear at Starbucks.

“Meg and Paul represent the kind of entrepreneurs we love to work with,” Ms. Hannah said of Megpies’ Ms. Ritchie and Mr. Jones. “They have a great story, genuine passion for their business, and an amazing product.”

For Ms. Ritchie, the opportunity to sell her Megpies in Starbucks nationwide far exceeds her initial expectations for the business.

“It’s hard to believe that we’ve grown from a local business to one with a national reach in just a few years,” she said. “It’s so far beyond what we could have imagined.”
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