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Coffee giant Starbucks gambles on large returns with entrance into Indian market

MUMBAI -- Starbucks is betting on big returns as it seeks to lure an expanding legion of coffee lovers in India — primarily a tea-drinking nation where lifestyle changes have spawned a booming market for cafes.

After eying the Indian market for years, the world's largest coffee chain is planning its foray into the country later this year, with an initial US$78 million investment to tap the country's fast-growing appetite for the drink.

“Coffee has changed from being a traditional beverage, consumed mainly in south India, to a mainstream beverage with a national presence,” said Starbucks' China and Asia-Pacific President John Culver.

“Given the size of the Indian economy, the growth of cafe culture and the rising spending power, India will be a very large market over the long term,” he told AFP in an emailed interview.

In a traditionally tea-drinking nation, India's annual per capita coffee consumption of 82 grams (3 ounces) is far below that of 6.79 kilograms (15 pounds) in Germany and 5.87 kg in Brazil, according to data from the International Coffee Organization.

But appetite for the bitter brew is growing amid an explosion of hip Western-style cafes catering to the country's young consuming class who offer significant opportunities for investment with their rising disposable incomes.

In addition to the Indian-owned Cafe Coffee Day chain which dominates the market, foreign chains such as Britain's Costa Coffee and American brand Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are well-established in major Indian cities.

Along with its distinctive green-siren logo cups, Starbucks has vowed to tackle competition with “locally relevant” flavors as it adapts its menu to suit local taste buds, following similar moves by other large chains in India.

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Customers wait in line to place their orders at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlet in Mumbai on July 18. Starbucks is betting on big returns as it seeks to lure an expanding legion of coffee lovers in India — primarily a tea-drinking nation. In addition to the Indian-owned Cafe Coffee Day chain which dominates the market. (AFP)

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