US coffee chain Starbucks and Spanish partner Grupo Vips are studying entering the Portuguese market this year or in 2006.

"There is a big interest in Portugal," a Vips spokeswoman told just-drinks, adding that the companies are finalising the necessary details to forge ahead with the project.

Family-owned Vips owns 86% of the Starbucks holding in Spain and France, which operate 32 and 11 restaurants in each country respectively.

Starbucks entered Spain in 2001 amid scepticism that its American-style franchise would succeed in wooing Spaniards away from traditional coffee-serving tapas bars. After opening two pilot shops in Madrid, the company quickly expanded the business to the 32 outlets. Now it is confident it can replicate that success in Portugal.

Apart from Starbucks, Vips owns 220 restaurants, including biggest chain Vips, in Spain. It plans to open over 200 new outlets by 2007.