Starbucks expanding into mainland China, plans 5,000 stores by 2021

Starbucks is expanding into mainland China and said on Wednesday that it was on track to have 5,000 stores by 2021, which would more than double the number of its coffee shops it currently had in the country.

The Seattle-based coffee chain was now looking to China to spur growth after opening its first Chinese store in 1999, but it had suffered a misstep nearly a decade ago when protests over a shop inside the Forbidden City led to it being closed. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had said China could one day surpass the US as the chain's largest market. The US has around 13,000 Starbucks stores.

In 2015, Starbucks had a 74 per cent market share among coffee shops in mainland China, according to market research company Euromonitor. The company's closest competitors, McDonald's Corp's McCafe and Whitbread PLC's Costa Coffee, both had market shares slightly in excess of 9 per cent, according to Euromonitor.

Starbucks had been adding unique flavors to attract Chinese customers, including Black Forest Latte, a mix of cherry juice, cocoa powder and coffee, and in September it started selling its Teavana tea brand at its China locations.

Chinese customers spent more time in Starbucks shops and bought more food than Americans, Schultz told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile Schultz said he still believed in the Chinese economy.

"Starbucks and myself remain very bullish on the Chinese economy, and specifically the buying power of the Chinese consumer," he said on CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Wednesday, adding that the company believes "these are the early days for Starbucks in China."

He said the company enjoyed an advantage because it had been operating in the region for 17 years. He added this had helped Starbucks develop "one of the most iconic, respected brands."

The coffee giant, which had tapped Belinda Wong as its first CEO of Starbucks China, said Wong had been "instrumental" in the company's growth in the country - from 400 stores in 2011 to more than 2,300 locations today.