Starbucks sees growth in Asia, where coffee becoming 'a thing'

More Starbucks stores are opening every year in South Korea and other Asian markets. Photo courtesy of Starbucks Korea

SEOUL, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Although the United States remains the runaway leader in the number of Starbucks outlets, Asian countries including China, Japan and South Korea are close on its heels, the company said.

As of the end of 2023, the Seattle-based coffee chain operated a total of 16,466 stores in the United States, followed by China with 6,975, Japan with 1,901, South Korea with 1,893, Canada with 1,465, and the United Kingdom with 1,297, Starbucks said Monday.

South Korea has been adding more than 100 stores each of the last few years, going from 1,508 in 2020 to 1,639 in 2021, to 1,777 in 2022 and reaching 1,893 in 2023.

The country is projected to overtake the third-place Japan in store count, even though Japan's population is more than twice that of its neighbor.

Korea's population is around 51 million, while the Japan has around 123 million people.

"In the past few decades, it has become almost a thing, drinking coffee after one's meal here, with Starbucks playing a crucial role. Koreans seem to relish having coffee as a pleasant after-meal drink, especially after having spicy Korean food," Inha University Professor Lee Eun-hee told UPI News Korea.

"More and more Koreans are also going to coffee shops to chill and rest. Such trends almost ensure that the number of new Starbucks stores will rise by more than 100 again this year, meaning the total store count could bypass Japan's," she predicted.

Starbucks, which launched in the United States in 1971, tapped into the South Korean market in 1999, when it opened its first store in Seoul in conjunction with the nation's retail conglomerate Shinsegae Group.

Starbucks Korea is also quite profitable.

The coffee chain, operating under the banner SCK, chalked up $560 million in sales and $37 million in operating profit during the third quarter of 2023.