Starbucks’ Schultz predicts coffee shortage for everyone else

SEATTLE Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz predicted Friday that rising worldwide demand for better coffees would lead to a shortage of premium arabica beans for the coffee giant’s competitors.

In an interview with the Reuters news service, Schultz asserted that Starbucks would not feel the pinch because its long relationship with premium-coffee growers would make it the preferred customer.

“I do not believe that others will have access to the quality of coffee that we are buying because we have secured those sources,” he was quoted as telling Reuters.

He did not specify when the shortage of so-called gourmet coffee beans would hit, but he forecast that prices would remain steady for at least the near and midterm, without defining those timeframes.

Schultz, who was suspected of leaking a controversial memo earlier this year about a perceived drift from Starbucks’ cultural roots, did not comment about the chain’s latest venture, a deal with Apple Computer to sell music downloads from Apple’s iTunes online music store. Starbucks patrons with an Apple iPod or iPhone device would be automatically connected to the iTunes site, as would any customer with a laptop opened to the iTunes application. Starbucks guests looking to go online usually pay a fee to connect with the chain’s internet provider, T-Mobile, which also charges for its services.

The free iTunes connection is expected to be offered in New York and Seattle Starbucks units starting Oct. 2, with the rollout slated to reach San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago by the end of March.

Starbucks operates or franchises about 14,000 coffee outlets worldwide, and also wholesales coffees to other restaurants.