When Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) pulled its packaged coffee out of the hands of Kraft -- now Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ) -- back in 2010, it cited Kraft for failing to adequately protect and grow the Starbucks brand. Kraft disputed that claim, saying that sales of the packaged coffee had risen from $50 million a year in 1998 to $500 million in 2010. That's a faster rate than Starbucks managed to grow its total revenue over the same period. Mondelez successfully defended its position, and yesterday, an arbitrator ordered Starbucks to pay $2.7 billion in fines and fees -- draining the company's cash reserve. Here's why I don't care.
Starbucks makes cash
During fiscal 2013, Starbucks more than doubled its cash on hand, from $1.2 billion to $2.6 billion. In a world where cash is king, Starbucks is an emperor. The business is generating cash at an incredibly healthy pace, and it shows no signs of letting up.
One of the most important ways to measure a company's growth is through its ability to generate free cash flow -- cash that the company can use for new projects or distribution. Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, has famously claimed that maximizing free cash flow per share is his No. 1 fiscal goal.
Over the last year, Starbucks generated $1.8 billion in free cash flow. Mondelez, which is close in market cap and earnings to Starbucks, is on track to generate less than $500 million in free cash flow this fiscal year.
The market is unfazed
I'm not the only person who thinks Starbucks is going to be OK. The stock is actually up slightly in trading today, showing the strength that the market has attributed to this company. With growth potential coming from new food sales, expansion overseas, and the company's Teavana acquisition, there's no reason to be worried about Starbucks.
The details are sealed behind a confidentiality agreement, but taking the packaged coffee business back was the right call. As Starbucks pointed out in its announcement of the decision, the channel that includes packaged coffee has grown to $3.2 billion since the business took it back in-house. Having ownership has allowed the company to try new things, and push its packaged coffee plan more forcefully. Did it take a meaningful financial hit today? Sure. But in the long run, it did the right thing.