Coffee retailing giant Starbucks on Monday announced the inauguration of a US$5 million (Ђ4.1 million) fund to promote education in China, part of its efforts to raise its profile in a market it hopes will be its second largest after the United States.
Chairman Howard Schultz said the fund reflected the Starbucks credo of making money while undertaking socially responsible projects in target markets, the AP reports.
"In many ways what we announced today is a milestone in building the business in China," Schultz was quoted as sayinmg by the AP. "But it mirrors what we did in the past 25 years in America in creating profitability and balancing that with a social conscience."
Schultz said the educational fund would funnel money through a local advisory group that would chose different schools worthy of assistance.
"We've had a long history in education in the U.S.," he said. "We clearly understand that in many rural areas in China people don't have access to education. We thought this would be the right way to show our commitment."
Starbucks, which opened in China in 1999, has only 140 outlets in the country, a small fraction of its almost 6,000 stores in the United States.
However, Schultz said, the company was aiming to increase its Chinese presence significantly.
"We have big opportunity in China," he said. "We think the number of stores here can rival the number in North America. We're in the embryonic stage here."
Starbucks push into China coincides with a rapid rise in disposable incomes among members of the country's emerging middle class in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
Other American food franchises including McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken dot the country's urban landscape, attracting customers with the promise of an attractive product served in a clean environment at a reasonable price.
Schultz said Chinese consumers spent more time in Starbucks outlets than their counterparts in Europe or the United States, possibly because of the relatively cramped nature of Chinese apartments.
"Chinese consumers use the stores as an extension as home or work," he said.