Chapter 3: Demand and Supply

Start Up: Crazy for Coffee

Starbucks Coffee Company revolutionized the coffee-drinking habits of millions of Americans. Starbucks, whose bright green-and-white logo is almost as familiar as the golden arches of McDonald’s, began in Seattle in 1971. Fifteen years later it had grown into a chain of four stores in the Seattle area. Then in 1987 Howard Schultz, a former Starbucks employee, who had become enamored with the culture of Italian coffee bars during a trip to Italy, bought the company from its founders for $3.8 million. In 2008, Americans were willingly paying $3 or more for a cappuccino or a latté, and Starbuck’s had grown to become an international chain, with over 16,000 stores around the world.

The change in American consumers’ taste for coffee and the profits raked in by Starbucks lured other companies to get into the game. Retailers such as Seattle’s Best Coffee and Gloria Jean’s Coffees entered the market, and today there are thousands of coffee bars, carts, drive-throughs, and kiosks in downtowns, malls, and airports all around the country. Even McDonald’s began selling specialty coffees.

But over the last decade the price of coffee beans has been quite volatile. Just as consumers were growing accustomed to their cappuccinos and lattés, in 1997, the price of coffee beans shot up. Excessive rain and labor strikes in coffee-growing areas of South America had reduced the supply of coffee, leading to a rise in its price. In the early 2000s, Vietnam flooded the market with coffee, and the price of coffee beans plummeted. More recently, weather conditions in various coffee-growing countries reduced supply, and the price of coffee beans went back up.

Markets, the institutions that bring together buyers and sellers, are always responding to events, such as bad harvests and changing consumer tastes that affect the prices and quantities of particular goods. The demand for some goods increases, while the demand for others decreases. The supply of some goods rises, while the supply of others falls. As such events unfold, prices adjust to keep markets in balance. This chapter explains how the market forces of demand and supply interact to determine equilibrium prices and equilibrium quantities of goods and services. We will see how prices and quantities adjust to changes in demand and supply and how changes in prices serve as signals to buyers and sellers.

The model of demand and supply that we shall develop in this chapter is one of the most powerful tools in all of economic analysis. You will be using it throughout your study of economics. We will first look at the variables that influence demand. Then we will turn to supply, and finally we will put demand and supply together to explore how the model of demand and supply operates. As we examine the model, bear in mind that demand is a representation of the behavior of buyers and that supply is a representation of the behavior of sellers. Buyers may be consumers purchasing groceries or producers purchasing iron ore to make steel. Sellers may be firms selling cars or households selling their labor services. We shall see that the ideas of demand and supply apply, whatever the identity of the buyers or sellers and whatever the good or service being exchanged in the market. In this chapter, we shall focus on buyers and sellers of goods and services.


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