When Starbucks opened its first store in China in 1999, many wondered if its tea-drinking culture would embrace coffee. Nearly 20 years later, Starbucks stores welcome more than 6.4 million customers a week in more than 140 cities. The country is now the company’s fastest-growing market, with a new store opening every 15 hours, and the ambition to open 6,000 stores across 230 cities by the end of fiscal year 2022.
Now Howard Schultz, who stepped down from the company and became chairman emeritus on June 26, is returning to China to express his gratitude to Starbucks partners and look ahead to the future.
In a letter to Starbucks China partners, Schultz said, ‘Throughout the region, love for the Starbucks brand is growing because of the experience and trust each of you provide our customers. Your passion is the foundation of our celebrated history in China and is what gives me confidence in our future.’
Here’s a look back over almost two decades of Starbucks in China.
Starbucks partners gather for the opening of the first store in China at the World Trade Center in Beijing.
First store opens in Shanghai on May 4, 2000, on the prestigious Huai Hai road in Luwan district. The city would go on to be the one with the most number of Starbucks stores globally (including the BinJiang location above) with more than 640 stores.
Starbucks joins with the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation to create the Starbucks China Youth Leadership Development Program. The program would help more than 18,000 young people in China, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, through education and training. Starbucks would partner with the foundation again to assist with disaster-relief efforts following the 2013 Ya’an and 2014 Ludian earthquakes. In June 2014, Howard Schultz and former chairman of the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, Hu Qili (above) commemorate the renewal of their ongoing partnership to enrich the lives of young people.
Shanghai hosts one of the company’s first Global Month of Service events. Starbucks China partners and customers have since contributed more than 650,000 hours in neighborhoods across the country.
Belinda Wong is named president of Starbucks China in July 2011. She became Starbucks China’s first chief executive officer in October 2016 and has been named each year on both Fortune and Forbes magazines’ lists of China’s most influential businesswomen, and one of the top 50 people shaping the future of the U.S.- China relationship.
Starbucks hosts its first Partner Family Forums in Beijing and Shanghai to honor the significant roles families play in the lives of Chinese partners. The company would go on to announce pioneering partner benefits, including a housing allowance for Starbucks partners in China and Starbucks China University to foster partners’ development opportunities, during this annual event.
Starbucks opens its first Asia-based Farmer Support Center in China’s Pu’er City, Yunnan Province. The Farmer Support Center has since trained more than 17,300 farmers in Yunnan on sustainable farming practices and certified more than 1,700 farms covering 17,000 hectares through C.A.F.E. Practices.
During a visit by China’s President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan, Howard Schultz shares his gratitude for the welcoming reception China has extended to Starbucks over the past two decades.
Kevin Johnson and Belinda Wong share a sip of coffee roasted at the Seattle Starbucks Reserve Roastery with special guests from China’s government, including Chairman Jiang Zengwei of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and Deputy Director Gu Jun of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce.
Starbucks launches its first single-origin Yunnan coffee across all Starbucks retail locations in mainland China, signifying an important step forward to completing the Starbucks China coffee journey, delivering premium coffee from bean to cup.
Starbucks redefines partner benefits in China with the launch of the critical illness insurance plan for the parents of its eligible full-time partners. To date, 93% of eligible full-time partners, like Shanghai Roastery partner Nick Ning (above), or a total of more than 14,000 parents now participate in the plan.
The company marks a new chapter on Aug. 2, 2017 with a Partner and Family Open Forum celebrating the addition of 1,300 Starbucks stores in 25 cities in Shanghai, Zhenjiang and Jiangsu provinces after assuming full ownership across mainland China.
Shanghai becomes home to the largest and most beautiful Starbucks location in the world with the opening of the first international Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Dec. 4, 2017. The immersive space is nearly 30,000 square feet (2,700 square meters), including the world’s longest coffee bar.
More than 2,000 partners come together in Shanghai to celebrate Schultz with one of China’s largest-ever partner gatherings. Their banner reads, ‘We love you. Thank you, Howard.’
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