Starbucks Is Struggling to Keep Stores Stocked with Coffee Cups

The company confirmed that some customers may receive their hot coffee in an unbranded cup.

A person wearing a brown plaid jacket holds a Starbucks coffee cup
Photo: Edward Berthelot / Getty Images

It's bad enough that global coffee bean reserves are the lowest they've been in two decades, but it also turns out that, even if you can get your hands on some coffee, you may have nowhere to put it. America is facing a coffee cup shortage, too — and it's hitting major chains like Starbucks.

Beyond the ongoing supply chain issues caused by the pandemic — leaving imported cups stuck in ports thanks to shipping delays — The Wall Street Journal reports that labor shortages at domestic paper mills and weather-related resin production delays in Texas have contributed to a shortage of paper cups, while worker shortages are hindering the production of plastic cups and lids as well.

As CNBC pointed out in November, exacerbating the problem is that all of this is happening at a time when the pandemic has also sent demand for takeout packaging like disposable cups surging. And so even when cups are available, the pricing has been higher. Khari Parker, co-owner of Connie's Chicken and Waffles in Baltimore, told the WSJ that he was paying 70 percent more for cups than he was last year.

A Starbucks spokesperson confirmed to me that "select stores are experiencing a temporary shortage of hot cups, and we are working to swiftly replenish cups at these stores." They continued, "In the meantime, some customers may receive their beverage in an unbranded cup. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working quickly and closely with our supply chain vendors to restock items as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, Starbucks reportedly told the WSJ that leftover holiday cups — which would normally be pulled by this time of year — were helping to fill any shortages. And though it could just be a coincidence, a video went viral on TikTok this week showing a stack of inside-out Starbucks cups with the logo printed on the inside.

Coincidence or not, don't throw those cups out. If they can still hold coffee, we may need them.

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