Starbucks scoops up coffee beans from China for blends, Asia sales

Wed Nov 19, 2014 4:03pm EST
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By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp has this year bought coffee beans from China at its highest volume ever, shipping data show, reflecting the country's burgeoning role as bean supplier amid supply concerns among traditional exporters.

The world's biggest coffee chain imported nearly 14,000 bags of arabica beans from China into the United States in the first nine months of 2014, more than five times last year's total, according to data from shipping intelligence firm PIERS, which aggregates cargo manifest details from customs data.

That is a fraction of total coffee imports by Starbucks - also the leading overall importer - from across the globe in the January-September period, but the company's purchases represent more than half of China's coffee imports in the United States.

The jump this year from less than 2,600 60-kg bags in 2013 partly reflects growth in Starbucks' nascent retail business in China, where a growing urban population is drinking more coffee.

Some of the beans are roasted in the United States and then shipped back to China for sale in the fledging consumer market, a spokeswoman said in an email. The rest are included in blends available globally, she said.

Starbucks two years ago launched its first operation in Yunnan, China's main coffee-growing province, but does not have a roasting facility in Asia, she said. Nestle SA has been active in the region for decades.

News last month that Volcafe, the coffee arm of London-based commodities trader ED&F Man, will set up shop in Yunnan was the strongest sign yet that merchants are taking China seriously as a supplier of high-quality arabica beans on the global market.


Customers walk out of a Starbucks coffee store in Shanghai July 28, 2014. REUTERS/ Carlos Barria