Starbucks' CEO Discusses Q3 2011 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

 |  About: Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)
by: SA Transcripts


Good afternoon. My name is Christian, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Starbucks Coffee Company Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2011 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] Thank you. I'll now turn the call over to your host, Ms. DeGrande. Madam, you may begin.

JoAnn DeGrande

Thank you. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is JoAnn DeGrande, Director of Investor Relations of Starbucks Coffee Company. Joining me on the call today from New York is Howard Schultz, Chairman, President and CEO; and here with me in Seattle is Troy Alstead, CFO.

Before we get started, I'd like to remind you that this conference call will contain forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are subject to various risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results to differ materially from these statements and should be considered in conjunction with cautionary statements in our earnings release, as well as Risk Factors discussions in our filings with the SEC, including our last annual report on Form 10-K. Starbucks assumes no obligation to update any of these forward-looking statements or information. Please refer to the Investor Relations section of Starbucks' website at and to the financial statements accompanying the earnings release to find disclosures and reconciliations of non-GAAP financial measures mentioned on the call today, along with their corresponding GAAP measures.

With that, I'd like to turn the call over to Howard Schultz. Howard?

Howard Schultz

Thank you, JoAnn, and good afternoon, everyone. I am delighted to report the record third quarter results that Starbucks announced today. Our third quarter results reflect the underlying strength and continuing momentum Starbucks has been experiencing across all of our global business segments. Never before in our 40-year history has Starbucks been healthier, more deeply connected to our customers and partners or better positioned to go after the tremendous business opportunities around the world that lie ahead.

Our third quarter results also reflect the success of our efforts and investments to innovate and deliver the exciting new beverage and food products and formats to our customers around the world and to elevate the Starbucks Experience everywhere we do business. And the results are just beginning to demonstrate the power and extraordinary global potential of the unique blueprint for growth business model we unveiled last December.

The very solid increase in global store traffic we experienced in Q3, despite significant economic uncertainty in many of the markets in which we operate, encourages us that our efforts and investments are resonating with our customers and will enable us to build long-term value for our shareholders.

Today, I will share highlights of our Q3 performance and discuss a few accomplishments and developments that will not be evident from the figures alone. Then I'll turn the call over to Troy who will take you through the financials and introduce our fiscal 2012 targets.

In Q3, Starbucks delivered another quarter of record revenue, operating income and earnings per share. Our consolidated revenues totaled $2.9 billion, up 12% over last year, driven largely by an 8% increase in global comp store sales. We delivered earnings of $0.36 per share, up 33% over last year. Our Q3 results were made possible by the passion, focus and energy of our nearly 200,000 Starbucks partners in 55 countries around the world, and are particularly gratifying in that they were delivered in the face of formidable challenges and economic headwinds that continue to confront all global retailers today. Strong top line growth, combined with continued discipline around controlling costs throughout the organization, helped mitigate commodity costs that while having abated somewhat recently, remained stubbornly high during much of the quarter.

Beyond our record financial performance in Q3, we made solid progress against several other initiatives, among which we were -- among which I'd like to share with you. Making several important investments in China to advance our goal of having 1,500 stores operating in China by 2015, including acquiring full ownership of the joint venture that operates our stores in Central, South and Western China. We now own and operate all Starbucks stores in mainland China, with the exception of stores in the Shanghai market, where we continue to operate with a JV partner. Announcing our intent to form a joint venture with one of China's most established coffee operators and agricultural companies to purchase and export high-quality Arabica beans from the Yunnan province in addition to operating dry mills. This will ultimately create significant local relevance with the Chinese consumer, which we consider to be key to long-term success in China.

Acquiring full ownership of the JV that operates Starbucks stores in Switzerland and Austria and a transaction that will enable us to further leverage our existing company-owned markets in the U.K., Germany and France. Extending personalized Frappuccino to our entire global store footprint all over the world enabled us to build on the learning and tremendous success of last year's U.S. and Canada launches. Continuing to roll out existing new store designs around the world, including recent openings at Harvard Square in Boston, the Brewery Blocks in Portland Oregon, Brompton Road across the street from Harrods in Central London and our Opera Store in Paris to name a few, all of which have been met with fantastic customer and media response.

Further strengthening our industry-leading U.S. mobile payment program by launching an Android app and expanding our iPhone app to include mobile eGifting.

As we look to the future, I could not be more excited about the new organizational and leadership structure we announced on July 11. We are significantly more confident than ever about the new structure that positions us to reach our goals. The significant operating improvements we have implemented throughout the organization have contributed to our strong financial performance and positioning us to go hard, to go fast after the tremendous global growth opportunities that lie ahead. The new structure will enable us to accelerate our global, multibrand, multichannel strategy, and to leverage the great talent and deep experience and expertise resonant in our senior leadership team.

In moving to a new 3-region global structure, we are matching our best talents to our biggest opportunities around the world. In this new structure, one president will oversee all operations within each of the 3 distinct regions with responsibility for the performance of company-operated stores as well as working with license and JV partners in each market with their respective region. The region president will also be responsible for working with Starbucks Global Consumer Products Group and Foodservice teams to further develop those businesses and execute against our blueprint for growth within that region. I am very confident that this new structure will enable us to maximize our speed, efficiency and ultimately our success as we move ahead all over the world. I'm looking forward to continuing to work closely with the 3 new regional presidents, John Culver for China and Asia Pacific; Cliff Burrows for the Americas and Michelle Gass for the EMEA, all of whom will be reporting directly to me.

As President of Starbucks Coffee International over the past 2 years, John Culver and his team have delivered strong international growth, operating margins and profitability, while at the same time building a solid foundation from which we can pursue profitable growth. Thanks to John and his team, our international business has never been healthier than it is today. Our international leadership team has never been stronger. Our relationships with our international JV partners have never been more collaborative, and our store portfolio has never been healthier. We are grateful to John for putting us on a fast track towards achieving our stated long-term goal of one day having our international business rival the size and profitability of our U.S. business.

Turning to our U.S. business. U.S. company-operated revenues in Q3 was strong, driven by continued momentum around our 40th anniversary campaign, early summer promotions, including personalized Frappuccino beverages, our new line of Starbucks Petites, 3-region blend holding coffee, and our wildly popular Frappuccino Happy Hour. Our customers continue to embrace Starbucks Reserve and our offering of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee has almost sold out at $30 a 0.5 pound. Our exciting new store designs and remodels are driving both additional traffic and incremental sales. And at the same time, ongoing efforts to elevate our customer experience has customers reporting that we are delivering improved product quality, product taste and speed of service.

Our Starbucks Card and loyalty program had a record quarter in Q3, activating nearly 150,000 cards per day during the quarter and generating a 38% increase in dollars loaded onto cards over this period. Starbucks continues to offer one of the largest mobile payment retailer networks in the U.S., and our network is growing. We currently have a presence in nearly 8,000 stores, including approximately 6,800 Starbucks company-operated stores, 1,000 Target stores, and we expect to complete the rollout of over 1,000 Safeway stores by the end of 2011.

In Q3, we responded to customer demand for increasingly faster ways to pay for Starbucks purchases by introducing a Starbucks app for Android devices, enabling Android users to load money on their devices' speed transactions and manage their Starbucks Cards more effectively. We also introduced mobile gifting on our new Starbucks for iPhone app, enabling iPhone customers to send a Starbucks Card eGift to anyone for the purchase of their favorite Starbucks product. There are now 1 million mobile devices with more than $50 million loaded for use specifically at Starbucks, and reloads are tracking well ahead of plan. Our research shows that mobile payment drives store traffic and also increases speed of service. I'm pleased to report that our innovation pipeline is robust, and we are seeing significant benefits from the investments we're making in mobile payment technology.

Looking ahead, the new Americas region, which will include the United States, Canada and Latin America, will continue to be a cornerstone of Starbucks growth. Brazil, in particular, is significantly understored and presents a solid long-term growth opportunity. I'm looking forward to the leadership and the discipline that Cliff will bring to the business as he accelerates the introduction of Starbucks Experience to coffee-loving customers throughout the region, just as he and his leadership team did in the United States.

Turning to International. With over 800 stores in greater China and over 450 on the mainland, China remains a focal point and key market in our international growth strategy. I'm pleased to report that our performance in China in Q3 continued the recent trend of very strong comp growth and profitability. I'm also pleased to report that we remain on track to open our first store in India in 2012, and our business in Japan continues to recover nicely ahead of plan.

Looking to Europe, as I mentioned earlier, we have acquired full ownership of our retail store operations in Switzerland and Austria, and both are now company-operated markets. This investment will help us further leverage our existing company-owned infrastructures in the U.K., Germany and France. We are grateful to the Marinopolous Group, our JV partner in these markets, for their partnership in bringing the Starbucks Experience to customers in Switzerland and Austria over the last 8 years, and look forward to continuing our collaboration with them as our valued partner in operating stores increase Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.

Turning to our Consumer Products Group. We continued to invest and make major gains against our plans to build the leadership and capabilities of our CPG organization. Going forward, our global, multibrand, multichannel CPG strategy will build out a portfolio of branded business units beyond the Starbucks retail brand. Jeff Hansberry and the CPG team have now successfully transitioned the Starbucks packaged coffee and tea business in-house, and the result has been strong product distribution of packaged coffee exceeding 90% ACV in the food, drug mass channel. Jeff and his team have also been working on integrating our packaged coffee business with our other premium single-cup platforms.

Our portfolio now includes Starbucks packaged coffee; the very successful introduction and now ongoing business of Starbucks VIA; and coming this fall in time for the holidays, Starbucks K-Cups. Our K-Cup launch plan calls for us to initially focus our sales efforts on food, drug and mass channels. We plan to make K-Cups available in our retail stores starting in late 2012, reflecting our commitment to a targeted CPG launch, focused on building awareness distribution and significant market share. We are encouraged by the solid support and response we've received from our customers, and expect to create both strong awareness and adoption of Starbucks K-Cups at the launch.

VIA continues to perform very well in key markets around the world, with sales driven in part by strong summer sales of Starbucks Iced VIA. VIA is now available in more than 70,000 locations, including Starbucks stores and in CPG channels globally. VIA continues to have both strong appeal and a strong repeat rate, with trial driving sales activity. This fall, we will extend the VIA brand with 2 new SKUs, Breakfast Blend and House Blend, 2 of our top selling ground coffees, which we are confident will extend the appeal of the platform to an even broader consumer audience.

With regard to SBC, Seattle's Best Coffee, over the past 2 years Michelle Gass and her teams have done an extraordinary job of laying the foundation and sparking Seattle's Best Coffee momentum. There are now 50,000 places to find a brewed cup of Seattle's Best Coffee, and the groundbreaking level system is seeing great success with consumers and top retailers. In fact, the Level System was recently recognized as an editor's pick by Progressive Grocer, one of the CPG industry's most respected trade publications. And the team continues to innovate around new retail store concepts, some of which are currently piloting in Canada. Given the adjacency of our CPG Foodservice and Seattle's Best business, Jeff Hansberry's new roles as President of Seattle's Best, in addition to his role as President of Global Consumer Products Groups and Foodservice, is a natural fit. We remain as committed as ever to building Seattle's Best as an independent brand with billion-dollar aspirations.

I'd now like to talk to you about Tazo Tea. Since acquiring Tazo Tea in 1999, we have built a profitable tea business, generating more than $1 billion in system-wide sales through sales of tea in our stores as well in -- as well as in CPG and Foodservice channels. Tea is nearly a $90 billion global market opportunity and after water, the second most consumed beverage on earth. And we have exciting plans to leverage our global retail store footprint and growing CPG presence to go after the tea category in a way we've never gone after before. We are fortunate to have the ideal professional to lead this business, Annie Young-Scrivner, currently our Global Chief Marketing Officer, who will be adding the title of President of Tazo, reflecting our commitment to transforming Tazo into a globally recognized multibillion tea brand.

In closing, Starbucks' performance over the last 2 years has been extraordinary and speaks to the commitment, tenacity and dedication of our partners around the world, who work hard in taking care of our customers and bringing the Starbucks Experience to life millions of times a day everyday. Our partners have put us in a position to go after the global, multibrand, multichannel opportunities that lie ahead. And our leadership team and our new organizational structure puts us in a position to win and win big. Thank you, and I'll now turn the call over to Troy.

Troy Alstead

Thanks, Howard, and good afternoon, everyone. The exceptional results that we reported today for our fiscal third quarter are a testament to the strength of the Starbucks brand, to the depth of the company's organizational capabilities and to the dedication of our partners around the world. Once again, we set third quarter record for several key metrics, including consolidated revenue, operating income, operating margin and earnings per share. All 3 reporting segments, the U.S, international and CPG, posted strong revenue and operating income growth. Our business has performed exceptionally well this year. And the third quarter continued that trend, despite significant headwinds from commodity costs and still challenging consumer environments in the U.S. and many other markets in which we operate. The foundation is in place to continue to aggressively pursue our aspirations to create a unique, multichannel, multibrand global consumer company.

Today, I'll provide additional details on our fiscal third quarter performance, then, I will update you on our expectations for the fourth quarter, as well as our initial outlook for fiscal 2012.

Third quarter revenues totaled $2.9 billion, up 12% from $2.6 billion a year ago. The revenue increase was primarily driven by an 8% increase in comparable store sales, attributable to 6% increase in traffic and a 2% increase in average ticket. Foreign exchange rates and higher CPG revenues also contributed to the increase.

We reported consolidated operating income of $402 million in the third quarter, a 23% increase compared to third quarter of fiscal 2010 operating income of $328 million, and a 16% increase compared to last year's non-GAAP operating income of $348 million. Consolidated operating margin reached 13.7%, a 120 basis point improvement compared to last year's third quarter on a GAAP basis and 40 basis points on a non-GAAP basis. Increased sales leverage in the absence of restructuring charges primarily drove the improvement, partially offset by higher commodity costs.

Earnings per share totaled $0.36 for the third quarter, compared to $0.27 per share on a GAAP basis and $0.29 per share on a non-GAAP basis in last year's fiscal third quarter. We absorbed $0.07 per share in the quarter, equivalent to 280 basis points of operating margin due to higher commodity costs compared to last year. Most of the commodity pressure was related to coffee, though dairy, cocoa and sugar and fuel also contributed. Overall, our global retail business continues to gain momentum, generating broad-based sales and income growth, while we continue to invest in our CPG business and execute on the strategy we've crafted for this important channel.

I will now move to the result of our operating segments, which will be compared with last year's non-GAAP results. Total U.S. net revenues for the quarter were $2 billion, a 9% increase over the same period last year. Company-operated store revenues increased 8% to $1.9 billion in the quarter, due to an 8% increase in comparable store sales. The comp increase was composed of a 6% increase in transactions and a 2% increase in average ticket. The increase in average ticket was driven by pricing and food, as our Petites platform and the expansion of our warming program drove incremental attachment. This increase was partially offset by increased discounts to support loyalty and other promotional activities.

Of note, the 2-year comp sales growth of 17% is the highest in over 5 years. And this quarter marked the first time that average daily transactions per store eclipsed our 2006 levels, previously the highest year on record. This achievement speaks to the incredible health of our U.S. business and to the improvement in our operations, when you consider that we're servicing this increased volume while holding customer satisfaction at consistently high levels.

Operating income for the U.S. segment was $379 million, an increase of 22% compared to the same quarter of last year. Operating margin improved 210 basis points from last year to a third quarter record of 18.8%. The margin improvement was primarily driven by sales leverage, partially offset by higher commodity costs, which negatively impacted U.S. operating margin by roughly 200 basis points.

The U.S. segment has been performing extraordinarily well, following our transformation of the business over the past few years. A variety of initiatives have contributed to this performance, including our extremely popular loyalty program, innovative products such as our Petites platform and personalized Frappuccino, and improved supply chain and store operations that are built on Lean principles. The consistently the strong performance of the U.S. business is even more impressive, when considered in light of the still-fragile consumer environment and the inflationary headwinds brought on by a spike in commodity prices.

We are encouraged by the broad-based momentum of the business and energized by the opportunities that still exist. New stores are performing well ahead of expectations signaling opportunities for deeper penetration in certain areas of the country. Operationally, we have yet to take full advantage of new technologies such as our new point-of-sale system or our new inventory management system, as we're still coming up the learning curve with these tools.

From a marketing perspective, we're in the very early stages of leveraging our unique digital capabilities to engage with our very loyal customer base, with programs such as eGifting and personalized one-to-one marketing having the potential to drive additional traffic into our stores. We are also doing a great deal of work in the areas of store design and store segmentation to understand how our customers use our stores and to optimize each store's particular real estate to enhance the overall experience. While we are at or above peak levels in the U.S. by many measures, these initiatives, as well as others, give us confidence that there are still significant untapped potential to grow revenues and profit in our core business, while we pursue emerging opportunities internationally and in CPG.

Moving now to results from our International segment. International total net revenues increased 20% to $659 million in the third quarter of fiscal 2011, an all-time quarterly record. The increase was driven by foreign exchange rates, comparable store sales growth of 5% and new store growth. The comp growth was driven by a 4% increase in traffic and a 1% increase in average ticket. Continuing the trend we've seen throughout the year, China contributed a significant portion to the overall comp growth to this segment. Comps in China accelerated this quarter to a level in the mid-30s from an already impressive trend earlier this year in the mid-20s.

Similar to the U.S. and Canada launches last year, this quarter, we launched the personalized frappuccinos across the balance of International store portfolio. Initial response in many markets has been exceptionally strong, particularly in our warm-weather markets where our Frappuccino business tends to be a larger share of the retail product mix. Overall, we saw strong comp growth in most of our emerging company-operated markets, which bodes well for the future, as these markets are key components to our long-term growth ambitions outside of the U.S.

International operating income was $80 million in the third quarter of fiscal 2011, a 35% increase compared to last year and a third quarter record for International. Operating margin improved by 140 basis points to 12.2%, primarily driven by sales leverage and lower impairment charges, partially offset by higher commodity costs. Increased commodity costs in the quarter impacted International operating margin by roughly 150 basis points. This is the highest third quarter operating margin on record for the International segment and continues the progression that started last year for the long-term target of mid- to high-teens operating margin outside the U.S.

Building on Howard's earlier comments, during the quarter, we announced the acquisition of the remaining equity in the Central, South and West regions of China, where we previously had a minority partner. With this acquisition, we now own 100% of operations in mainland China, with the exception of the Shanghai market where we have a very strong joint venture partnership. This ownership change aligns with our strategy to accelerate growth in China on the way to our stated goal of having more than 1,500 stores by 2015. The recent performance we've seen in this important market, extremely high comp growth, the most profitable stores in any market around the world and strong new store return on investment suggest that we're hitting a point where the brand is getting critical mass and the consumer appetite for Starbucks presents huge potential.

In addition to the shift in ownership in mainland China, today we announced we increased our ownership in the Switzerland and Austrian markets to 100%. We will leverage our existing infrastructure to integrate these markets into our Western European company-operated portfolio.

Collectively, our International portfolio has never been in better health, and our vision of a diverse mix of profit contributors across the globe is beginning to materialize. We're starting to see a more balanced contribution from the entire portfolio. In addition to China's rapid growth, our licensed markets, many of which are smaller emerging markets, collectively are growing revenues at a faster rate than our company-owned markets as a result of both comp and new store growth.

The International team has done an incredible job in setting up the foundation for success outside the U.S. And as we move into the previously announced regional structure in fiscal 2012, I'm confident that we'll continue to build on the current momentum we have in our business outside of the U.S. and capitalize on the tremendous opportunities that exist.

I'll now move on to results from the Global Consumer Products Group. Our CPG segment continued its recent momentum in the third quarter, completing the first full quarter under our direct distribution model for packaged coffee and tea. This model now gives us total control over the selling and distribution to retailers of these products, as well as VIA. K-Cups will be added to the lineup beginning this fall, which, along with our coffee authority and brand recognition, will create an unmatched proposition for our trade customers in the coffee category.

In the fiscal third quarter, total net revenues for CPG were $218 million, an increase of 25% over last year. Slightly more than half of the increase was related to the packaged coffee and tea business as a result of the transition in-house, as well as pricing. The remainder of the increase was driven by our Foodservice business and the expanded distribution of VIA into grocery. VIA continues to perform well. Sales for the most recent 4-week period were up 41% over last year, and repeat rates continue to trend among the highest in the industry at roughly 38%.

CPG operating income for the quarter totaled $66 million, a 20% increase compared to the third quarter of last year. The operating margin of 30.2% was 130 basis points lower than the same quarter last year. Higher coffee costs had a significant impact this quarter, accounting for roughly 1,000 basis points of margin deterioration. This was partially offset by less marketing spend, as we are lapping over last year's launch of VIA into the CPG channel.

Overall, we are extremely pleased with the transition of the packaged coffee and tea business and the financial impact has been in line with our expectations. The minor share erosion we experienced early in the quarter, driven by less promotional and display activity as the previously distribution arrangement ended, has already given way to solid recovery. Packaged coffee sales have recorded double-digit growth over the recent 4-week period versus last year, despite some recent volume weakness in the overall category.

In the last several months, we've had a dedicated focus on the transition, ensuring that it was seamless to our trade customers. With this work now behind us, anticipation is building within the trade around what we will now be able to bring to the coffee aisle. With the planned launch of K-Cups in the fall adding to an already strong packaged coffee lineup and an ongoing build-out of the VIA platform, Starbucks has an unmatched coffee portfolio in CPG. Our ambitions outside our retail store channel are bold and will take time to fully capitalize on the opportunity. But I'm confident that the assets we own and the teams we now have in place provide the foundation to achieve those goals.

Before I move on to our outlook for the remainder of fiscal 2011 and a first look at fiscal 2012, I want to take a moment to recognize Starbucks' supply chain organization. This group recently received a remarkable, well-deserved achievement, ranking for the first time in the top 25 of global supply chains as rated by Gartner AMR, a well-known research firm in this field. We're very proud of this achievement, given the significant transformation that team has gone through over the past few years, first, retooling that organization to drive improved efficiency and accuracy, and more recently, bolstering its infrastructure and talent to support our blueprint for growth. This ranking recognizes the tremendous progress we have made, noting Starbucks' focus on improving overall supply chain performance, differentiating ourselves from our peers on accelerated commercialization of new products, our long-term programs to grow and acquire supply chain talent, and the approach and speed in which the supply chain organization has improved its performance. Congratulations to Peter Gibbons and his team on this well-deserved recognition.

We entered fiscal 2011 with strong momentum throughout our business and a cautious optimism that those trends would continue, despite the uncertain economy and the gathering headwinds from commodities. As the year progressed, our business performed beyond our expectations, as the focused efforts of our partners helped drive additional traffic into our stores.

Now with 3 quarters of the fiscal year behind us, I would like to provide you with an updated outlook on how we expect the year to close out. Earnings per share for the fourth quarter is expected to be in the range of $0.35 to $0.36 and EPS for the full year 2011 is now expected to be in the range of $1.50 to $1.51, modestly above the previously communicated 15% to 20% growth over 2010 non-GAAP earnings per share, excluding the benefit in 2010 from the 53rd week. In addition to the earnings outlook, we now expect approximately 10% revenue growth on a comparable 52-week basis driven by comp growth at the high end of our target range of 3% to 7%.

Excluding the impact from the Borders store closures, we now plan to add approximately 600 net new stores globally, with roughly 100 in the U.S. and approximately 500 in international markets. The majority of the new additions in both segments are expected to be licensed stores. Through the end of the quarter, 228 Seattle's Best Coffee stores closed as a result of the Borders bankruptcy. The 247 stores that remained are expected to be closed this week. As previously communicated, we took charges related to the Borders portfolio in the first and second quarters, and we do not have any meaningful exposure remaining. We still expect to absorb approximately $0.22 in additional commodity costs compared to fiscal 2010, primarily driven by coffee. Roughly $0.08 of this amount is expected to be absorbed in the fourth quarter.

Full year operating margins for both the U.S. and International segments are now expected to finish near the high end of the previously communicated 150 to 200 basis point improvement compared to last year's non-GAAP results. Operating margins of the CPG segment are also now expected to finish near the high end of the previously communicated range of 25% to 30%. The expected results, on a consolidated basis after the impact from the Borders charges, remains at 50 to 100 basis point improvement compared to last year's non-GAAP operating margin.

I will now provide you with a high-level initial look at several fiscal 2012 targets. These targets are presented under the current segment reporting structure, not yet reflecting the reorganization announced recently. I plan to provide the fiscal 2012 targets under the new segment reporting structure during the November year-end conference call.

We expect approximately 10% revenue growth for the year, consistent with the rate of growth this year and driven by mid-single digit comp growth, approximately 800 net new stores and strong growth in the CPG business. Of the approximately 800 net new stores we expect to add, roughly 200 are expected to be in the U.S. and roughly 600 in International. Approximately half of the new additions in the U.S. will be licensed stores. Internationally, roughly 2/3 of new additions will be licensed, consistent with our current mix outside the U.S. We expect China to account for approximately 1/4 of the International new store additions.

We expect capital expenditures to be approximately $700 million for fiscal 2012, reflecting the increase in new stores planned. Full year operating margin improvement is expected to be 50 to 100 basis points on a consolidated level, with improvement expected in U.S. and International retail operations, offset by moderately lower volumes -- margins, excuse me, in the CPG business. Sales leverage and operational efficiencies will continue to drive the margin improvement in U.S. and International, offsetting pressure from commodities.

Similar to this year, we expect CPG margins to be impacted more significantly by commodity increases, since coffee is a larger share of the overall cost structure for this business. Additionally, we'll continue to invest for future growth in CPG as we launch K-Cups and expand the VIA platform. As a result, we expect CPG operating margin near 25% in fiscal 2012.

We expect fiscal 2012 earnings per share growth to be in the range of 15% to 20% consistent with our long-term outlook range. We expect pressure from commodity costs to continue into the next year. As we had anticipated, in recent weeks, coffee prices have retreated significantly from a high of more than $3 per pound at just a couple of months ago, to levels now near $2.40 per pound. As prices have been falling, we continued locking up our needs for fiscal '12, and now have virtually the full year price protected. At these contracted levels, we expect the elevated coffee cost to negatively impact earnings by approximately $0.21 per share in fiscal '12 compared to fiscal '11. That additional cost is already fully reflected in our 15% to 20% EPS growth target for next year.

Global demand for coffee continues to grow, which underscores the huge opportunity for Starbucks' expansion in the years ahead. And while that demand growth undoubtedly has pressured coffee commodity costs from the levels of 1 year or 2 ago, the recent significant decline supports the analysis we have available to us, that the spike to $3 was fueled much more by speculation. We now have very good visibility into our key input costs for the coming year and have continued great confidence in our ability to meet our growth targets.

Lastly, I'd like to highlight our expectations for the highly anticipated launch of Starbucks K-Cups. K-Cups are expected to be available this fall in the U.S. CPG channel in time for the important holiday period. Based on the extraordinarily strong early response and the anticipated demand from our trade customers, we expect to be able to ramp up the distribution, awareness and adoption relatively quickly for new product introduction. We expect K-Cups to add approximately $0.03 to $0.05 in incremental earnings per share in fiscal 2012, already included in the 15% to 20% EPS growth target reflecting the significant investment plan to support the CPG launch. Due to the manufacturing capacity that is needed to support the CPG demand, we now expect to launch K-Cups in our U.S. retail stores to occur very late in 2012. Therefore, we do not expect any financial benefit in fiscal '12 from the retail launch.

Our third quarter results further demonstrate the unique strength of the Starbucks brand, our retail store portfolio and our evolving multichannel growth model. Despite stiff headwinds in the form of higher commodity costs and a fragile consumer environment, we were able to achieve record results while continuing to invest for the future. We are still in the very early stages of our pursuit to build a one-of-a-kind company that reaches consumers throughout the world in multiple channels and formats, while maintaining a deep connection to our customers. As we continue to see more proof points, we're increasingly confident that this vision will begin to play out in the coming quarters and years. Our recently announced organizational changes will allow us to more clearly focus on the unique complexities inherent in each region around the globe, as we expand our retail presence while driving growth in our emerging businesses.

The strategies to pursue the tremendous global opportunities are clearly defined. Our management team is experienced and energized, and we're backed by strong balance sheet and healthy cash flow. We have an extremely solid foundation in place to pursue ambitious profitable growth in fiscal 2012 and beyond.

With that, now let me turn the call back over to the operator to begin Q&A. Christian?

Question-and-Answer Session


[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from John Glass with Morgan Stanley.

John Glass - Morgan Stanley

The questions are related and they relate to the K-Cups. First, could you talk about the $0.03 to $0.05? That sounds like it's a net number of some launch costs. If you're willing to talk about what you think those launch costs are, so maybe we can back into what you think the run rate is without those costs. And what -- just clarify your decision, I guess, not to launch these into your stores until late in 2012? That's like -- it sounds like it's a capacity issue or is there something else behind it strategically where you want to get it established? It would seem like you'd want to, if there was a choice to be made, you'd want to bring it to stores earlier to help that adoption faster for K-Cups and bring new people into that system, so why are you choosing the opposite strategy?

Troy Alstead

First on the $0.03 to $0.05, yes, you're right. That's a net number, it reflects our commitment to launch this new product and any new product in the right way, which will include meaningful spend against it over the first, second and likely third years, similar to what we're doing with VIA to really ensure that we are capturing the consumer demand that's available to us in building the proposition for the long term. So $0.03 to $0.05 is a nice contribution in the first year. It is not at, by any means, a mature margin contribution level in 2012 because of the spend we'll put against it. We won't quantify that spend quite yet, but I think as we move through 2012, we'll provide more visibility to what that looks like as we go. Now to the second part of your question, the launch in CPG is expected to consume really all the available capacity we have for Starbucks K-Cups. So in partnership with the Green Mountain, we've agreed to put the launch of K-Cups in the Starbucks stores late in the fiscal year. And that will ensure that we have all the volumes we need for what we think will be a very, very attractive and exciting launch in the CPG channel. Perhaps it's distinct from VIA, where we used our retail stores to build awareness of the product. What we know about K-Cups is that consumer awareness and the pent-up demand already exists, because it's an existing platform that's out there. And so we have the opportunity here to launch into CPG directly and first, and really capture a huge opportunity during that very, very critical holiday period. So that's what's behind that decision.

Howard Schultz

Troy, let me add one more thing to that. John, I think we're going to get the best of both worlds. We're going to draft off the momentum that already exists on K-Cups in the channels that they're already in, and the demand so far in terms of response has been significant in terms of selling process. But our calendar at retail is anywhere from 12 to 18 months forward. And we have a very robust product and promotional plan already in place, so I think on a parallel track, we're going to get all the benefits that exist from K-Cups and complementary channels. We're going to have a robust plan within our retail stores. And then we're going to come right after that in the late 2012 with K-Cups. So we feel we're in a very unique and very positive positions to take advantage of multiple channels of distribution that no one else has other than Starbucks.


Our next question comes from Sarah Senatore with Sanford Bernstein.

Sara Senatore - Sanford Bernstein

I wanted to ask another question about CPG business. Just thinking about the sort of VIA, you said 70,000 points of distribution. Can you give some color on which market is doing the best? What kind of distribution you have? I'm just trying to think forward if the K-Cups were or a single-serve product were to be available kind of internationally, what is the receptivity of the customer base, sort of broadly speaking, to Starbucks and single-serve?

Troy Alstead

I'm going to be ask Jeff Hansberry, our President of Consumer Products, to take that question.

Jeff Hansberry

Our strongest market and most mature market for VIA is the U.S. market, and we've been in market now for about one year. Our distribution stands at about 71% ACV per IRI. And in the last month, we grew at 41%. What's really encouraging on VIA is we continue to see growth both in winter and summer, as Howard mentioned in his comments, on Iced VIA. It's really countercyclical to coffee, so we're seeing growth around Iced VIA in the summer. Beyond that, we're seeing our repeat rates actually climb, and they're now at 38%, which is very encouraging. We're going to follow that with the launch of Breakfast Blend and House Blend in CPG this fall in the U.S. So we're very encouraged by the progress we're seeing.


Our next question comes from David Palmer with UBS.

David Palmer - UBS Investment Bank

Troy, question on CapEx, that $700 million guidance for fiscal '12. seemed just a little bit high to me, given the fact that the new company stores or the new store base in general will be heavy on China within the company store base internationally, and then licensed stores overall. So could you perhaps just give some color on the CapEx number, where -- how does that break down?

Troy Alstead

Yes, the breakout, David, is similar to the mix of our spend in years past, where new stores are a piece of that component but not the majority and not even half, actually. Our ongoing commitment to remodel our store base at similar levels to this year, although perhaps slightly higher in the year ahead, contribute a bit to that CapEx. But most meaningfully, the increase from 2011 to 2012 expected CapEx is driven by new stores, as we are growing all around the world. I will point out, it's -- these are early targets and we'll fine-tune that number for you throughout the year as we go.


Our next question comes from Sharon Zackfia with William Blair.

Sharon Zackfia - William Blair & Company L.L.C.

I guess the question on China, where obviously those comps are kind of jaw-dropping that you're seeing there. And I guess, just curious, having watched you for a long time as you've grown in China, are you seeing, daypart utilization change, the mix of food versus beverages or just the general customer that's coming into the stores, has that really been changing over the past year?

Howard Schultz

Troy, you want me to take that?

Troy Alstead

Sure and -- go ahead. Go ahead, Howard.

Howard Schultz

Is John in the room as well?

Troy Alstead

Yes, he's here. He can follow on after you start the answer.

Howard Schultz

Okay. Let me begin by saying, I think few people remember that we've been in China now over 12 years. And during that time, I think we did a very good job of just building the brand in a way that would not be faddish but really trying to create the coffee ritual and demonstrate to Chinese local customers the relevancy of the Starbucks brand. I think early on, the stores were actually more popular than the coffee, because our stores literally became the third place between home and work. And most Chinese people live in smaller dwellings, and they use our stores as great meeting places. Over the last couple of years, what really has taken place is that the traffic has been building in multiple dayparts. And we're certainly beginning to see the early stages of the morning ritual. Although we have a long way to go, and I think that gives us even more opportunity and I think more excitement, because these numbers are being generated, really thus far, without the morning daypart being as significant as they are in other parts of the world. I think perhaps the most encouraging aspect of our Chinese business today is the response that we're getting in secondary and tertiary markets in cities that most Americans have never heard of, with populations ranging from 1 million to 6 million to 7 million people. In these markets, the response and the unaided awareness of Starbucks lines out the door in terms of almost a rite of passage as a result of Starbucks opening up in these cities. So when we look at the number of cities in China that are going to have 1 million people or more, and the government officials are telling us it's going to be over 100 cities, these are -- the opportunity, I think we have, is very significant. The challenge from the very beginning is to ensure the fact that we do not become something that's faddish. The hardest part in building a new brand in Asia is to make sure you do not become white hot and then all of a sudden, out of favor. I think we've done a very good job in building really strong local relevancy and relationships with customers, vendors and the government. And as a result of that, the local Chinese Starbucks team is off to a great start. I've said for the last couple of years, there's going to be lots challenges in China. We've learned a lot. We've made some mistakes. But we're going to have thousands of stores there and build a very big significant business, not only in our retail stores but the blueprint of growth in terms of complementary channels of distribution and other products are a significant part of the strategy.

John Culver

This is John Culver on the call. Just a couple of things I would add on to what Howard just said. First off, in terms of the growth that we're seeing in China across all the markets to include the new cities that Howard talked about, it's being driven through transaction growth. And so it's attracting more customers in and continuing to increase the level of frequency of those customers coming into our stores. In addition, we've had some new innovations that we introduced in the quarter with our customizable Frappuccino, which was a huge success in China. And then also, we introduced VIA in both the mainland China as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong in the quarter. And the early results on VIA in China are very, very impressive, so we're very excited about that. And then also, as part of our integration into the Chinese culture and into the Chinese community, is the relationship that we're building in the Yunnan province around coffee, and Howard talked about that as part of the opening, but we're very excited about the opportunities this presents for us long term to continue to grow the business, and increasing the level of dayparts in the -- to our stores as well. So very good news in China.


Our next question comes from Jeffrey Bernstein with Barclays Capital.

Jeffrey Bernstein - Barclays Capital

Just a question on cash, you gave a lot of color on 2012. We didn't talk much about cash flow, you said, just yet. But I think like -- I know you guys are running north of $1 billion in cash currently on hand and my guess is you're running north of $1 billion of free cash likely next year. And I know you have significant available credit. I'm just wondering, I mean the dividend in the kind of low 1% range, should we think about the excess for -- primarily for share repurchase? I mean how should we think about 2012? I know you've alluded in the past the potential acquisition above and beyond kind of returning cash to shareholders. Whether you have any thoughts on whether an acquisition, might be U.S. or International or on beverages versus other areas such as food, kind of any thoughts you have on the use of cash and potential for acquisition?

Troy Alstead

Sure. You're right on your early part of that, Jeff, in the sense that we have well over $1 billion in cash in the balance sheet today, closer to $2 billion. We have a business that's produced a very, very healthy $1 billion in free cash flow, and I would fully expect that or better as we look at fiscal 2012. So we have the opportunity with that strong balance sheet and a healthy cash-producing company to do a number of things. And part of that is in returning cash to shareholders through share repurchases. We are committed to a share repurchase program that is based on valuation. And so we will, at different times, be in the market and will certainly return cash as appropriate through repurchases. We also have ongoing dividend program that's based on a targeted payout ratio. So as our earnings grow, I would expect dividends to grow over the years as well to match that, to stay within that range of the ratio. So those elements will likely grow, as time goes on and as our income grows. And then further, of course, we'll invest back in our business through CapEx, through growing the health of our infrastructure, to invest in our partners, that's fully appropriate. And with all that said, yes, we do expect that we'll be more active in M&A in the years ahead than we have been in the years past, as we see tremendous opportunity to leverage our capabilities and our speed to market in some areas and really further build out our blueprint for growth through selective, we think, smart and strategic acquisitions. So that will be part of the equation, and certainly shapes are thinking about cash as we look forward.

Jeffrey Bernstein - Barclays Capital

Any thought whether that'd be U.S. or international, or beverage versus food organ, or kind of directionally, which way you'd like to go?

Troy Alstead

Well, I -- our interests are very much global. So yes, we're looking at what opportunities there are in the U.S. but very much with our increased focus outside of the U.S., around development, we're really looking at all our geographies, key geographies, existing geographies, some of the emerging markets that we're in and evaluating what possibilities might be there. So very much of a global answer, I can't give you a specific breakout because we're not targeting it that way. But I can tell you that our interests are very broad-based.


Our next question comes from Keith Siegner with Crédit Suisse.

Keith Siegner - Crédit Suisse AG

Troy, just a question for you on CPG, and kind of thinking about the margins from 2011 to 2012 and kind of going from let's say, the guidance this year, the high end of the range around 30% to 25% next year. When you think about that walk through, clearly, it's sounds like we're going to have headwinds from commodities, but how does the first full year without transition costs for packaged coffee, is that a positive? What about the K-Cups, is that positive to margins? In other words like, are we going to have another 1,000 basis points headwind from commodities and these other things I've said? If you could walk through those moving pieces year-over-year, that'd be great.

Troy Alstead

Sure, Keith. Let me speak to some of those pieces. One is yes, commodities, as I mentioned earlier, are absolutely a headwind for us in the full business. And that's most acutely impactful on margins in CPG, as it's a much more cost-intensive cost structure, as you know. I can tell you that the decline, as I spoke about earlier, from about 30% operating margin in CPG this year down to the targeted 25% next year is really all explained by commodities. Absent commodity inflation, we'd be at or improving our margin in the coming year. Now with that said, there are a few other moving pieces as well. K-Cups in its initial year will not be at mature margin levels that we expect to grow to with that exciting product over time, as we will spend against it, just as we have with VIA. So that's very accretive to earnings to the tune of $0.03 to $0.05 per share, but it will be somewhat lower margin in its first year too as we spend against that development. Similar VIA as we continue to grow and expand and invest behind VIA, that is profitable. It'll be more profitable in '12 than it was in 11. And yet, the margin structure on VIA will continue to be somewhat lower than what we see in the rest of our consumer products business. So those are some of the moving pieces, but I would just come back to the fact that it's really the biggest mover there, it's coffee costs. And that's the biggest driver that's resulting in that lower end of the 25% to 30% range next year.


Our next question comes from David Tarantino with Robert W. Baird.

David Tarantino - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

Howard, just a question on the new organizational structure. I was wondering if you could provide a little bit more context on how you envision that structure helping the business? Maybe provide some specific examples of how you're thinking about using that structure to accelerate your International growth. And then Troy, maybe as a quick follow-up, if you could talk about whether that structure is going to lead to any efficiencies on the financial side.

Howard Schultz

Okay. I think there are a number of ways in which the company is going to benefit as a result of this new structure and alignment. But let me begin with what I said in my remarks, and that is John Culver and his team have done a, really, a spectacular job over the last 2 years in bringing International to the operating margin that is as respectable as it is today. But we think there's a long way to go. John and I have been talking for the past year or so just how broad-based his geography was. Just think about managing 50 countries, 50-plus countries and trying to be as present as possible in all of the geographies and the complexities of these organizations, as well as the fact that these markets are not all alike. International is not one organization. It's very different, diverse markets, different levels of maturity in terms of coffee and different levels of maturity just in terms of Starbucks brand. And so we began thinking about how can we leverage Starbucks' strongest operating talent against the biggest opportunity we have in terms of retail growth and the global opportunity, where we really believe we're in the nascent stage with only 6,000 stores. And I think given what Cliff has been able to do in the U.S. since he came here from Europe in transforming the U.S. business, if you divide the 3 territories with Michelle Gass, who's been with the company 15 years and really knows every aspect of our business, and put her in Europe and the Middle East, and put Cliff in the Americas, and then leave John where he once lived in Hong Kong and took care of China and Asia Pacific, we now have 3 very, very strong Starbucks' leaders really going after growing the business in a different way. A good example, to be specific, is let's take country of Brazil. Brazil's a market that we think we can have at least 1,000 stores there, at least. And we're sitting with less than 100. It's a market that we know we're understored in and we just have not been able to be as present in terms of our focus and attention. I think with Cliff's leadership, Brazil will become a significant growth driver for the company. If we look at Europe and the opportunities that we think we have to leverage the blueprint of growth, with complementary channels of distribution with CPG and foodservice, a background that Michelle has with a company, she'll be able, I think, to leverage that insight and experience across Europe in ways that we haven't to date. And then if we look at Asia Pacific, the area where we think we have the greatest opportunity in terms of growth, John will be singular-focused with his entire organization on Asia Pacific, specifically China and the opening of India, which is extremely complex with big upsides, but lots of complexity to open India in 2012. So I think this is the beginning of, I think, realigning the organization in ways that we haven't before, and I think most importantly, taking all of the learnings that we've applied to the North American business over the last 2.5 years that have literally transformed the economics and the results, and bringing that to bear across the International markets with 3 very strong leaders. So I think this is a great move for the company. I credit John for his leadership in this, and I think Cliff and Michelle will do a fantastic job.

Troy Alstead

And David, to the second part of your question, as you just heard from Howard, the full, complete, entire motivation behind the restructure is about enabling growth. It's about positioning us with strong talent and teams, who can be focused on the uniqueness and the complexities of these individual regions around the world. So this restructure is not about seeking efficiencies. It is completely about going after the huge opportunity we see around the world that's been really validated by the growth in the last couple of years, the margin improvement, and now building on the great work in the last couple of years. This restructure allows us to accelerate and go after that more meaningfully. Now with that said, while there's no motivation around efficiencies here, as we drive growth and drive the top line in the years ahead as a result of this increased focus, I fully expect to drive margin improvement as a result of that.


Our next question comes from Gregory Badishkanian with Citigroup.

Jeffrey Hans

This is Jeff Hans speaking on behalf of Greg. You guys have done another remarkable job growing traffic on a 2-year trend in the U.S., despite -- this past quarter, despite a still pretty fragile consumer environment. So you -- can you guys talk a little bit about that disconnect? What's sort of driving that momentum in your business? And then what type of initiatives do you have in place in the near term to maybe sustain some of that?

Howard Schultz

Well, I think we've said from day 1 beginning in 2008 when we were really dealing with the height of the cataclysmic financial crisis, despite the challenges we were having at that time, we were not going to use the economy or the lack of consumer confidence as an excuse to grow our business. And I think nothing has changed. We are not looking at the economic environment. We're looking at what we can do to exceed expectations of our customers and create a great experience in every aspect of our business for both our people and our customers. And that has not changed. Over the next 12 to 18 months, we have a great, robust level of innovation, a pipeline of new products and new promotions. And as we head into the fall and holiday season, we're as enthused as we were in the last couple of years. I think when you look at the comp number overall at 8% globally or 9% for the U.S., these are stunning accomplishments, not only in spite of the economy. But if you look at other retailers or restaurants, these are top of class. Can we sustain those kinds of numbers over the next 12 months? I can't answer the question in the affirmative. I think Troy has given a good guidance in terms of mid-single-digit comps. But we're very confident that the -- what we have put in place in terms of consumer-facing initiatives and the level of innovation, not only in products and experience but through technology, that we're going to be able to create separation between us and everybody else. Two years ago, when the world was coming to an end, not only were we dealing with economy, but there was concern about McDonald's and others, and I think we've done a very good job in creating the kind of experience that really does differentiate Starbucks from everybody else both in terms of experience, the quality, the coffee and the relationship our customers have with our people. That has not changed. We're going to continue to invest in what is most important around the equity of the brand and any of the experience that we create in our stores. And we think that's going to continue to drive very strong comp store growth domestically and internationally.


Our next question comes from Joe Buckley with Bank of America.

Joseph Buckley - BofA Merrill Lynch

I want to go back to China again for a moment. First on the transactions that gave you control of mainland China, are there any financial implications here from earnings standpoint to be aware of, just from the transactions alone? And then talk about changes that you'll execute, now that it is completely company-controlled, particularly with the expansion. How quickly do you think that will ramp either higher than what you provided for 2012 for guidance?

Troy Alstead

Joe, I'll speak to the first part, and then ask John Culver to jump in on the second piece of it. There is some transaction accounting that comes to play with the purchase this quarter. It's not a pretty meaningful number. It shows up in other operating income, so it's below the margin line, but there is a modest gain that shows up there and is responsible for some of the increase in that other operating expense -- or the income line that you'll see in our financial statements. Now in terms of what we'll do from here, I'll ask John to jump in.

John Culver

Yes, Joe, in terms of the transaction itself and the integration of the business, really it's seamless. We've had operating control of that business within the partnership. What this allows us to do is buy back the equity portion of our business partner that was there and take over full control and operations from a P&L perspective with the business. So in terms of any changes, no changes other than the fact that it now allows us to go on uninhibited in terms of pushing the accelerator on growth there. And that's what we have here every intention of doing.

Howard Schultz

Joe, I just have one thing. And I think it's more than a subtle coincidence that the alignment of Cliff, John and Michelle are also coming at a time when we are acquiring these businesses back. I think there is a symmetry to the fact that we've got our best talent against a company-operated operation across the globe. And I think it's going to add significant long-term value to our shareholders. It's the right thing to do for our company and it's coming at a time when we really have the organization in place.


Our next question comes from Michael Kelter with Goldman Sachs.

Michael Kelter - Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

I just wanted to ask about the International traffic number, which stayed the same even though China accelerated to the 30s. I guess I was curious what the negative offsets were in the International division and maybe what -- a status update on what's going on in those markets?

John Culver

Yes, Mike, I'll speak to that. China, as I've said was extremely strong, even improving over previously. All our other company-owned markets remain positive and generally in good trends. The softest market we had was our largest international market, and that's in Canada. Again, positive same-store sales but a bit softer and that's due in parts to some -- in Western Canada, the harmonization of taxes impacted all of retailers including us, and so there's a little bit of softness that we've seen as a result of that, as well as some ongoing weather that contributed to our softness in Canada. But that's really, again, very consistent traffic to a large degree in U.K., and very, very strong improving traffic as we have talked about in China.


Our next question comes from John Ivankoe with JP Morgan.

John Ivankoe - JP Morgan Chase & Co

Just, I think, few pretty quick ones. Looking, obviously, at your average unit volumes or same-store sales in the United States, and you've given what's obviously been a very high competency of opening units. Why is the company-operated unit -- and maybe, Howard, talking about your previous point with some of your best talent being focused on company-owned markets, why isn't it that number higher in 2012? Why is it 100 units? And I guess should we think about if trends continue, possibly 2013 is a breakout year to reopen a lot of the U.S., this is first question. And then secondly, how should we think about pricing for the remainder of '12? I mean is that something that you think you can do if you need it? I mean, could it be something that kind of in your arsenal, if you will, if commodity costs don't stay where they are currently?

Howard Schultz

With regard to U.S. growth, I think one thing I'd like to say is I think for anyone to conclude that the U.S. market is reaching a level of saturation for us, I think would be a wrong conclusion. I think what is occurring though is that during the downturn in the economy, when we stopped searching and securing U.S. retail sites and downsized the acquisition of real estate organizationally, we lost a lot of time. So it takes an entire organization, it takes a long time to secure sites, design stores. And I think we lost probably 1.5 years because of the downsize of the organization during the financial crisis. And so we're just building back that organization, and the lead times are great. For me personally, I remain bullish and enthusiastic about our ability to grow the U.S. business beyond the 100 store level per year. But organizationally, we've got to be in a position to be able to do that. And what I do not want to do and we will not do is have an undisciplined approach to real estate acquisition. We want to be extremely careful and highly disciplined to make sure that the return on investment. I think, what we're most proud of is the class of stores we've opened up in the last year, in terms of sales return on investment and sales to investment ratio, is of highest we've had in many, many years. And Troy can speak to that specifically.

Troy Alstead

Yes, our new store class in the last couple of years have continued to strengthen. And we've always had very good unit economics though it suffered a bit during the difficult days of a couple of years ago, but since then with the discipline that Howard mentioned around site selection, around close management of our new store costs, we have been able to improve those economic significantly to the point now where it is very, very attractive for us to invest in our U.S. business and add stores. Howard's point though, we fully intend to do that in the right way and at the right pace. And I would expect that new store will, while it's doubling in 2012, I would expect it to grow further in 2013 as we ramp up our capabilities and we position ourselves for growth. Now John, to the second part of your question around pricing, we have been, as you know, very judicious, very cautious in what we've done with pricing. And that comes out of a tremendous sensitivity to the consumer around value and around the place they're at right now. We've taken less pricing than just about everybody else out there down in coffee. And the result of that, I believe, has been a couple of things. One is the -- our results and our ability to drive traffic and increase frequency, speaks to a number of things we're doing around customer service and product innovation and relative program, but it also speaks, I think, to our value. And consumers recognizing that extreme quality we're offering them at a good value, as we've been careful with what we've done with our strategic pricing in our stores, and we've been conservative. Look at what we've done with pricing down the grocery aisle. I think it's no coincidence that we are one of the rare companies down the aisle that's actually growing volumes right now in coffee. While there is dollar share growth in some places driven by pricing, we've been cautious about that, and like the idea of grabbing volume share and positioning ourselves much better for the future. And what that does, I believe, is it allows us to drive earnings and meet our growth targets. It also allows us to preserve some pricing power for the future, if it's needed. And so we'll be cautious about it. We'll be careful about it, but it gives us tremendous flexibility that perhaps others don't have, as we approach the next year or 2.


Our final question comes from Mitch Speiser with Buckingham Research.

Mitchell Speiser - Buckingham Research Group, Inc.

As we think about fiscal '12 and modeling on a quarterly basis, can you maybe give us a little bit of color just in the context, it seems like you might be marketing heavily behind K-Cup perhaps in the fall? And then of course, there is the coffee costs, which I would think would perhaps maybe decelerate on a year-over-year basis. Is it safe to say that if comps just say were to remain at the same level throughout the year, that we should expect the calendarization of earnings growth maybe to start off slower and end up stronger? And if you could maybe just give us some light on the calendarization of earnings growth.

Troy Alstead

Sure, Mitch. It's a bit early to be too specific about quarters. Probably, tell you a little bit more about that in November. But what I'll say for now is, yes, you're correct that coffee costs will likely be a bit more of an acute pain for us in the first half of the year, year-over-year. Simply because as we went through 2010, those coffee costs accelerated as we went. And so in the early part of the year, we'll be lapping relatively lower costs from a year ago, and so that year-over-year differential is a little bit more costly to us in the first part of the year than will be the second half of the year. Again, more specifics to come as we see how things play out throughout the year. And then beyond that, there is always lots of ups and downs. We, as you pointed out, will be launching K-Cups in the fall and -- but I think that's extreme positive for us and we're very much optimistic about it. We'll be spending against it, but K-Cups will be profitable for us, so I don't expect that to particularly drive calendarization. So to large degree, coffee is the one thing I could point out to you right now. And again, when we get to November, we'll talk a little bit more about how the quarters look.


Ladies and gentlemen, We have reached the end of the allotted time for questions and answers. Ms. DeGrande, are there any closing remarks?

JoAnn DeGrande

Just briefly. Thank you, Christian. Thank you all for joining us today. That does conclude our third fiscal quarter call for 2011, and we will talk to you in November.


Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude today's Starbucks Coffee Company Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2011 Earnings Conference Call. You may now disconnect.

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