business news in context, analysis with attitude this morning offers analysis on the retailing juggernaut that is Starbucks:

    How much Starbucks coffee can the world drink? Or want to? The Seattle-based coffee giant seems intent on pushing the limits in finding the answer -- but by extending its own reach, will it in fact be limiting the choices available to consumers?

    Starbucks currently has more than 6,400 stores in more than 25 countries around the world. The company is pulling out of Israel in part because security just got to be too great an issue, and it has recently seen some small drop in sales in Asian countries where it operates, because of concerns about the mysterious SARS virus. And there are places where Starbucks is identified (in much the same way McDonald’s is) as a symbol of US cultural tyranny and a kind of corporate colonialism.

    Starbucks opens roughly 100 stores a month -- that’s more than three each day -- mostly in the United States, the company’s chairman, Howard Schultz, is fond of pointing out that it has less than a seven percent market share in total coffee consumption in North America.

    But there’s a larger issue here, and one that ought to concern consumers no matter where they live.

    Certainly, Starbucks must be credited for expanding and stimulating the range and rage of coffees available to consumers and for almost creating from scratch coffee-mania. After all, how many people ever heard of a latte before Starbucks came along?

    The larger issue is whether or not Starbucks is beginning to limit the options of consumers? There are some areas in which Starbucks has managed to put the local competition out of business and reducing the choices available to consumers to the items that it offers in its shops; this is a plentiful selection, to be sure, but it is Starbucks’ selection.

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