MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's largest coffee group Lavazza could open up to 15 stores around the world as it takes on Starbucks, but has no plans to go head-to-head in the U.S. chain's hometown of Seattle.
Lavazza's top executives opened the family-owned company's first coffee boutique in the center of Milan on Tuesday, close to where Starbucks <SBUX.O> plans to launch its first Italian store, offering specialty blends and fine food, next year.
Starbucks and other major coffee brands are trying to capture a growing market for people who are prepared to pay a premium for quality coffees in upmarket boutique cafes.
The Lavazza coffee shop near Milan's famous La Scala opera house, offers not only Italy's trademark espresso, but also siphon brewed and other types of coffee which are growing in popularity, particularly among younger aficionados.
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Opening near where Starbucks will inaugurate its coffee palace, is no coincidence, industry experts say.
However, Lavazza's top managers said they do not see the U.S. group as a direct competitor, adding an expansion by Starbucks in China could even be a positive for the Italian firm as it will help shift customers there to coffee from tea.
"If this first cafe is successful, we will open between 10 and 15 stores in the world's biggest cities in coming years," vice president Marco Lavazza, said, adding the group would focus on Austria, Britain, France, Germany and the United States.
"In the U.S. we will likely open in New York... we are not thinking of Seattle," he said of the west coast city where Starbucks built its first roastery, an upscale outlet that the U.S. chain plans to replicate in 20 cities, including Milan.
(Reporting by Francesca Landini and Lisa Baertlein; editing by Alexander Smith)