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Starbucks has plenty of customers, but not enough ingredients

Tasha Leverette sits for a portrait with a guava green tea lemonade at a Starbucks in Atlanta on June 9, 2021. Her favorite drink is a peach green tea lemonade, but she hasn’t been able to get one because of supply issues.
Tasha Leverette sits for a portrait with a guava green tea lemonade at a Starbucks in Atlanta on June 9, 2021. Her favorite drink is a peach green tea lemonade, but she hasn’t been able to get one because of supply issues.JOHNATHON KELSO/The New York Times

Tasha Leverette was in the mood for her favorite drink from Starbucks, an iced peach green-tea lemonade.

When she went through the drive-thru of her usual Starbucks in Atlanta three weeks ago, though, she was told they couldn’t make the drink because they didn’t have any peach-flavored juice. Shrugging it off, she drove to another store. And another. And another.

Each stop brought disappointment. None of the locations had the integral ingredient.

“I said to them, ‘This is the Peach State, right?’” said Leverette, 33, who owns a public relations firm. “It’s surprising because Starbucks always seems like it has anything and everything you need.”

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Across the country, customers and baristas are taking to social media to bemoan shortages not only of key ingredients for popular Starbucks drinks, like peach and guava juices, but also a lack of iced and cold-brew coffee, breakfast foods and cake pops, and even cups, lids, and straws.

A video on TikTok this week featured what appeared to be a group of employees screaming in frustration over a list of ingredients the shop had run out of — including sweet cream, white mocha, mango dragon fruit and “every food item.” The caption also said that they were low on cold brew and the “will to live.”

Starbucks is hardly the only company struggling with supply issues. Earlier this spring, ketchup packets became hotter than GameStop stock. Automakers have slowed production because there are not enough computer chips for their vehicles. And homeowners are waiting weeks, if not months, for major kitchen appliances.

But Starbucks is running out of ingredients for Very Berry Hibiscus Refreshers and almond croissants after being one of the clear winners of the pandemic economy. During lockdowns, the coffee chain quickly shifted from its position as a “third place,” where people could linger to work or meet up for long chats, to focusing on frictionless transactions with customers ordering through mobile apps and drive-thrus. Earlier this year, company executives said Starbucks had seen a “full recovery” in US sales, back to pre-pandemic levels.

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In a statement, a spokeswoman for Starbucks said the company was experiencing “temporary supply shortages” of some of its products. She said the shortages varied by location, with some stores experiencing “outages of various items at the same time.” She added that the company was working with its vendors to restock the items as soon as possible, and that the supply-chain issues had not affected prices.

Although most people are familiar with the problems in the global supply chain to some extent, some Starbucks customers are still shocked — even incensed — by their inability to get their coffee exactly how they want it. Others laugh it off.

“I was told they couldn’t give me an extra shot of caramel because there was a national shortage,” Nicole Brashear, a 24-year-old pharmacy student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said of ordering an iced caramel macchiato with extra caramel drizzle in late May. “I just sort of laughed and was like, ‘Isn’t caramel just burnt sugar?’”

The problem for Starbucks is that it was never just selling a simple cup of coffee. For many, the experience of visiting the chain is a self-indulgent treat.

Customers learn the language regarding sizes and special drinks and then share their customized, 12-ingredient drink orders on social media. Many look forward to seasonal specials, like this summer’s Unicorn Cake Pop and Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino, which are available for a limited time.

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There were earlier hints that supply issues could be bubbling up for Starbucks. In a late April call with Wall Street analysts, the chief executive of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, voiced some concerns about companies that were part of its supply chain struggling to hire the staff they needed.

By late May, customers and baristas were reporting shortages of key ingredients or foods in stores all over the country.