Published by Nicholas McCullum on April 13th, 2017
Starbucks (SBUX) has had a very impressive run since its IPO in 1992. The stock has returned 18,325% during that time period, which has pummelled the S&P 500 (along with every other index).
Starbucks is also a strong dividend stock. The company hiked its dividend by an eye-popping 25% in November, which was the sixth consecutive year of annual dividend increases since the company initiated the payout in 2010. This means Starbucks is more than halfway to being a Dividend Achiever, which are stocks with 10+ years of consecutive dividend increases.
Most investors are familiar with the old adage ‘past performance is no guarantee of future results’. This definitely applies to Starbucks (as well as all other stocks). Just because the company’s performance since its IPO has been nothing short of spectacular does not mean strong returns must continue in the future.
Fortunately, Starbucks’ future looks bright. The company outlined its strategic plan to continue growth at its 25th annual shareholder meeting, which was held on March 22 in Seattle, Washington.
This article will discuss Starbucks’ growth prospects as outlined in their annual meeting in detail.
The Strategic Agenda
In a press release accompanying the annual meeting, Starbucks made the following announcements:
- Changes to their management and corporate governance teams, including a new Chief Executive Officer (originally announced on December 1st) and three new additions to the board of directors
- The intention of significant expansions by fiscal year 2021, which includes more than 240,000 new jobs globally (68,000 in the U.S.) and more than 12,000 new locations globally (3,400 in the U.S.)
- An update on Starbucks Roasteries
- Renewed their guidance to focus on technology
- An update on international expansions
This article will discuss each of these bullets in detail below.
Corporate Governance Changes
Starbucks is currently executing on a number of corporate government changes.
Investors are likely familiar with Starbucks’ management change at the CEO level. Howard Schultz, the company’s long-time leader, has left his role as CEO effective April 3, 2017. Schultz originally acquired Starbucks in 1987 when there were only 3 locations. He will continue to be involved with Starbucks as the company’s Executive Chairman and will be leading the company’s new Roastery efforts (more on that later).
Replacing Schultz is Kevin Johnson, who originally joined Starbucks as a member of its board of directors in 2009 before taking on an expanded role as President and Chief Operating Officer in 2015. Johnson brings experience in the technology sector including 16 years at Microsoft (MSFT) and 5 years as the chief of Juniper Networks (JNPR). With Starbucks being a leader in terms of serving their customers via technology, I view Johnson’s background as a significant plus for this company.
Starbucks also made changes in its boardroom. The annual Annual Meeting saw the company announce a few key additions to its board of directors, namely:
- Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft
- Rosalind Brewer, the former CEO of Sam’s Club (Wal-Mart’s membership-only retail subsidiary)
- Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, the executive chairman and previous CEO of Lego
Each of these executives is highly renowned, particularly Nadella, and will likely be positive contributors to the company’s future governance.
The Rollout of Starbucks Roasteries & Starbucks Mercato
Starbucks’ identity lies as a premium brand. The company’s products are not known to be cheap, yet consumers are happy to pay a higher price because of the positive ambiance associated with Starbucks’ locations and the consistency of their service and beverage quality.
To that end, Starbucks is rolling out even more premium locations which are called Starbucks Roastery. Starbucks gave an update on this project at their 2017 shareholder meeting.
These locations will occupy the highest spot in Starbucks’ ‘product pyramid’, and will offer consumers high-end coffee that sells in excess of $10 per cup.
Source: Howard Schultz’ Presentation at the 2016 Biennial Investor Meeting
The coffee is not the only thing customers will be paying for, though. Roastery locations are expected to be a premier meeting place for both business and social endeavors, and consumers are not expected to be purchasing their beverages ‘to go’.
Starbucks’ Roastery concept is quite unique, but I assign a high probability that the project is successful. A large reason why is the involvement of Starbucks’ long-time leader Howard Schultz, who will be leading the Starbucks Roastery initiative in his new role as Executive Chairman. Schultz has a proven track record as the leader of the overall Starbucks business and I view his involvement as a positive for Roastery.
Even once the project has scaled to capacity, the Roastery locations will be very rare. Currently, Starbucks’ management has publicly communicated plans for only six locations across the globe, although this number will inevitably increase as time passes.
You can see the six planned Roastery locations in the diagram below.
Source: Starbucks Annual Meeting Presentation
There is a lot of uncertainty around the potential of the Roastery franchise. For more information, I encourage Starbucks investors to get a glimpse of the Starbucks Roastery project by visiting its website here.
Roastery is not the only area of Starbucks’ business where the company is innovating. On April 11, the company launched Starbucks Mercato, which is a selection of salads, soups, and hearty sandwiches that are currently being offered in more than 100 locations in downtown Chicago.
Starbucks’ previous ventures into the lunch category had mixed results. However, the Mercato lineup is being launched slowly, and I have no doubt that this latest venture will only be scaled if the company views it as a fruitful use of its capital.
A Continued Focus on Technology
Starbucks has long been known as one of the restaurant companies that has the most impressive technology offering. The company gave an update on its technology efforts at the 2017 investor meeting.
Starbucks calls their technology portfolio the digital flywheel, and its components can be seen below.
Source: Starbucks Technology Presentation at the 2016 Biennial Meeting
The pinnacle of Starbucks’ digital flywheel is their mobile app, which allows customers to purchase drinks anywhere, pay for them on the app and then travel to the location for pick-up. In exchange for using the app, Starbucks customers collect Stars which can be redeemed for drinks and food once a certain threshold is reached.
This benefits Starbucks (and its investors) by increasing customer satisfaction, improving store efficiency, and allowing the company to offer personalized offers to consumers who regularly use the app. Domestically, Starbucks’ digital app adoption has been growing rapidly, and the company still has a huge opportunity to create this sort of growth in its international markets.
Starbucks is taking measures to make ordering drinks and food even easier. Remarkably, the company has partnered with Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa virtual assistant that is contained in Ford (F) vehicles to allow voice-controlled ordering while driving.
Source: Starbucks Annual Meeting Presentation
This capability is widely expected to be made available on smartphones in the near future.
Starbucks’ focus on technology was also shown in their recent introduction of a mobile-only store at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. This store was previously a bottleneck for employees, and this move is expected to dramatically improve the efficiency of this location.
Over the long-run, it is unlikely that the company will devote many resources to opening mobile-only stores because the company prides itself on being a place of gathering as well as a place to purchase beverages.
However, it is promising to see that the company has enough faith in their technology infrastructure to run a store based completely on their mobile platform.
To conclude, I can say with high confidence that Starbucks’ mature technology portfolio gives the company a distinct competitive advantage over its competitors and will benefit investors for the foreseeable future.
International Expansion Opportunities
Despite all the other promising growth runways I have already described in this article, the largest contributor to Starbucks’ future growth will likely be their international expansion efforts – specifically China.
China has the largest population of any country, currently 1.4 billion people. It is also Starbucks’ fastest-growing market. Some of Starbucks’ key stats for the country of China can be seen below.
Source: Starbucks Annual Meeting Presentation
Here’s where it gets interesting. The slide above is from the company’s annual shareholder meeting presentation on March 22, 2017.
To get a sense of exactly how fast Starbucks is growing in this country, consider the following slide which was presented on December 7, 2016 (about three and a half months before the original slide).
The difference is remarkable.
In about three and a half months, Starbucks has increased the number of cities in China with a Starbucks presence from 118 to 127, and their number of stores from 2,500 to 2,600. This rate of increase shows no signs of slowing down, either. The rest of this section will describe why Starbucks is growing so fast in China, as well as some reasonable investor expectations for the foreseeable future.
Starbucks’ expansion into China has been largely driven by innovation, both via technology and unique store concepts. Many of Starbucks’ Chinese locations are unlike the company’s domestic locations. A few examples can be seen below.
Starbucks is clearly making efforts to integrate with the culture of this new market, and this should pay dividends for years to come.
The company is also making efforts to attract the best talent. Starbucks has long been known as an employer of choice in the United States. The company is known for treating their workers (which they call team members) well.
This trend is continuing in China, with the company’s efforts outlined below.
Like any business, Starbucks’ success is highly dependent on its employees. Investors should be encouraged to see that the company takes such pride in developing its employees.
Readers might be curious to know reasonable long-term expectations for growth in the company’s China segment. Starbucks is planning on opening roughly one store per day in China for the foreseeable future.
Their mid-term goals are impressive:
If Starbucks can successfully execute on these goals, it will translate to impressive returns for its shareholders.
This article was dedicated to the qualitative drivers of growth that were outlined in Starbucks’ 2017 Annual Meeting.
I would caution you that this article was absent any quantitative analysis, and we recognize that. Starbucks’ strong qualitative growth prospects come with a lofty valuation. The company’s current stock price of $57.88 is a 30.3x multiple of Starbucks’ fiscal 2016 adjusted earnings-per-share of $1.91.