The world's most populous country will soon have a much more crowded coffee shop landscape: Starbucks plans to hit China with 500 new stores a year for the next five years, says The Wall Street Journal. The company will also make major investments in its future workforce, with plans to subsidize at least 50 percent of housing costs for thousands of its baristas and store managers.
Starbucks already has 2,000 stores across 100 Chinese cities, and CEO Howard Schultz says he expects China — a historically tea-drinking nation — to eventually become the company's biggest market. While the amount of coffee China currently drinks pales in comparison to the U.S., it's also the nation with the biggest opportunity for growth, with per-capita coffee consumption projected to rise 18 percent each year for the next few years.
The WSJ notes that "for those catering to the country’s growing upper-middle class, business has remained surprisingly good" — but Chinese sales for fast food brands like KFC and Pizza Hut have been in a slump as of late. Yum Brands, the parent company of the two aforementioned brands as well as Taco Bell, split its Chinese division off into a separate entity as part of a recovery effort following major food scandals that involved Chinese KFCs serving tainted meat. Nonetheless, Starbucks isn't the only big American chain currently planning a major push into China: Last year Dunkin' Donuts announced plans to open nearly 1,500 stores across China, Hong Kong, and Macau, though its expansion will be spaced out over 20 years.
Starbucks' menu in China looks mostly the same as what you'd see stateside, with the exception of a few items special to the Chinese market like red bean green tea cheesecake and peach blossom flavored tea lattes. A three-story Chinese flagship store that opened in Chengdu in 2014 features a fancier Starbucks Reserve coffee bar serving pricey small-batch beans.