Starbucks, Flush With Customers, Is Running Low on Ingredients

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.

Orders are not barked out by number like other fast-food chains but rather are announced by name, suggesting customers are friends or are part of the Starbucks club, said Bryant Simon, a history professor at Temple University and author of “Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks.”

“Starbucks did something remarkable: taking a really ordinary product, coffee, and remaking it as an identifier of class, of culture, of discernment and of knowledge,” Mr. Simon said. “Starbucks is a way to communicate something about yourself to other people. While it has become more complicated over time, that drink still says, ‘I deserve a break in my life. I can afford to waste money on coffee.’”

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.

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