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Meet The Woman Behind Starbucks’ Always On-Trend Food Offerings

Before you place an order at your favorite Starbucks branch, you usually pass by the warmly-lit display chiller brimming with golden pastries, tempting desserts, and savory bites. Whether you want to eat something or not, your eyes curiously wander for something that you might just want to try—a new cake, a gourmet sandwich with cheese, and sometimes, something a little unexpected like Cranberry Pistachio Turkey Flatbread or a slice of Chocolate Oat Cheesecake (part of the holiday lineup offered until January 7, 2019). It’s hard to resist not walking away with something from that luring food display. You go in for a cup of coffee but end up with something more.


Cranberry Pistachio Turkey Flatbread topped with chicken, turkey sausage, spinach, and cheese


Starbucks has certainly come a long way from serving the filled pandesal, simple sandwiches, and usual pastries of its earlier days. Today, this global coffee behemoth serves food suitable for any time of day, whether you plan to sit down or are on the go, whether you want something sweet or savory—and more likely than not, it’s something you won’t find anywhere else.


Baked Cheese Tarts filled with cream cheese and drizzled with a sugar glaze


So who gets to decide what food products end up in the display? It so happens it’s a cheerful petite woman by the name of Celine Lichauco who is behind the delicious food offerings at Starbucks. Armed with culinary knowledge from the Center for Asian Culinary Arts (CACS) and a background in catering, recipe development, and baking, Celine has been working at this Seattle-based international coffee chain for almost 13 years, now serving as the Assistant Category Manager for Food. That tempting food item you just ordered without intending to? That’s because of her. “I love food,” Celine says enthusiastically. “From the very start when I was young, I really loved to eat. I tried to copy what I’d see on TV or in books, and I’d try to cook them.”


Celine Lichauco with some of Starbucks’ holiday offerings


While Starbucks is known for its coffee and ambiance, the food plays a significant role as well in the Starbucks experience. Not only does each store offer a wide variety of delicious food products but everything is made with the highest quality ingredients. “All of our items are handcrafted,” shares Celine. “And when we develop a product, we always make sure it will complement our coffee.”


Chocolate Peanut Butter Bun filled with chocolate and peanut butter cream, topped with crushed roasted peanuts, chocolate and peanut butter drizzle


During a recent perusal of Starbucks’ display case, what stood out included a Sous Vide Egg White with Couscous and Quinoa, Cereal Milk Pudding, and a returning holiday favorite, the Chicken Fajita Roll. Starbucks is always at the forefront of what’s most innovative in food—whether cooking techniques like sous vide, trendy ingredients like quinoa, or creative takes on classics. With its food offerings, Starbucks tries to go beyond what coffee shop cuisine is thought to be. The Filipino palate is becoming more and more adventurous and Celine is unafraid to introduce new items that adventurous customers may enjoy.


Chicken Fajita Rolls filled with Mexican-flavored chicken breast fillet


“When I travel and see something new and different and it’s not yet here in Manila, I want to come up with food items that are both unique and approachable,” says Celine. Among Starbucks’ new Christmas offerings is Cereal Milk Pudding which is a rich, creamy, crunchy dessert that pays homage to a favorite New York City bakeshop.


Cereal Milk Pudding topped with cereal flakes


Other new items include the Japanese-inspired Almond Matcha Doughnut and a Mexican-style Baked Burrito served “open faced” with all the makings of a hearty burrito topped with melted cheese and surrounded by a crisp crust.


Almond Matcha Doughnut with white chocolate matcha glaze and almond slivers


Regardless of where her inspirations come from, Celine ensures that the food products she develops are able to capture what the Filipino Starbucks customer wants. So how exactly does Celine do this? “It’s always a matter of trial and error if a product will work,” she says. “I’m a Starbucks customer myself, so I go to stores and also observe people’s buying habits and that helps me develop.” Her years of experience at Starbucks have allowed her to anticipate what Filipino consumers will want next and to continuously produce a range of food choices inspired by different cuisines. “When you’re going to develop a product, you have to do something that you will love and will want to share—that makes the product easier to sell,” explains Celine.


Baked Burrito features a tortilla bowl filled with Mexican-flavored rice and topped with cheese


Being responsible for the food of one of the largest coffee chains in the Philippines is no easy feat, and as the market becomes more competitive with Filipino tastes evolving and trends always changing, Celine keeps hitting the mark. She says there is no secret, “In the food business you always want to be the first to come out and right now, it’s so easy to copy. For me, there’s no secret recipe: it’s how you make it and the passion that you put in making the product.”


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