MILAN (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp, the world's biggest coffee chain, is in talks with an Italian partner to open branches in Italy, one of the few major markets where it has yet to make an entrance, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that the US company was negotiating with Italian businessman Antonio Percassi to bring the Starbucks brand to Italy. The paper said a deal was expected to be signed by Christmas.
A source confirmed to Reuters that talks were underway.
Asked about the report, Starbucks spokesman Corey duBrowa said: "Rumours and speculation only. We have nothing to say about it."
The Percassi group is based in Bergamo, near Milan, and owns cosmetics chain Kiko, which has more than 700 shops across Europe and the United States. It also has a franchising deal in Italy with US lingerie chain Victoria's Secret.
The chairman and chief executive officer of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, has written in the past that he was inspired to open his first coffee shop after visiting Milan and admiring the city's thriving cafe culture.
His group has since opened cafes in dozens of countries, but has never ventured into Italy, despite the fact that it has the seventh highest per capita coffee consumption in Europe, according to the European Coffee Federation.
Analysts have speculated that Italians might not take to Starbucks because they are used to short, sharp shots of caffeine which cost considerably less than Starbucks' brews and are usually drunk in one or two gulps at a bar counter.
If Starbucks does venture into Italy, it would be the second major US brand to try to take on the locals at their own game in swift succession. Earlier this month the American pizza chain Domino's opened a restaurant in Milan.
Pizza is a national dish in Italy and Italians view foreign variations with suspicion.