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Asia-Pacific Business China will overtake U.S. as coffee chain’s largest market, Starbucks says

The Starbucks logo is seen outside its coffee store in front of Zhengyangmen Gate at Qianmen Commercial Street in central Beijing, in this April 19, 2012 file photo.

JASON LEE/REUTERS

Starbucks said it expects China to eventually overtake the U.S. as the coffee chain's largest market.

The Seattle company said it is on track to open 500 stores in China this year. It expects to have a total of 3,400 stores in China by 2019.

Starbucks currently has 2,000 stores in China, making it the company's second largest market after the U.S. The company has more than 12,000 stores in the U.S. that it either operates or licenses to others.

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"Over time, it's conceivable that China could become our largest market," said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a statement.

A Starbucks spokeswoman declined to specify when the company expects that to happen.

"We are deeply humbled by the enthusiasm with which Chinese people have embraced Starbucks as part of their daily ritual over the past 17 years," Schultz said.

Schultz visited Chengdu, China, this week and announced a new benefit for its Chinese workers. Some of its full-time baristas and shift supervisors at company-owned stores will be able to receive a monthly housing allowance that covers about 50 per cent their monthly costs.

Shares of Starbucks Corp. rose $1.26 (U.S.), or 2.2 per cent, to $59.08 in midday trading Tuesday. Its shares have risen more than 47 per cent over the past year.

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