NEW YORK — Big consumer brands generally try to avoid politics. Starbucks might not have a choice.

With Howard Schultz, who built Starbucks Corp. into a global brand, considering an independent run for the White House, the world’s largest coffee chain could get pulled into the contentious politics of a presidential election. And while it’s toed a political line in the past with public stances on hot-button issues, a Schultz run could take that to a whole new level – perhaps to the detriment of the chain’s U.S. growth plans.

Starbucks declined to comment on a potential run by Schultz, who retired as chairman last summer but remains a large shareholder and the best known face of the brand.

“They’re being dragged into this – it’s very volatile for the brand,” said Allen Adamson, an independent branding expert. “They’ve been flirting with going beyond serving coffee, but Schultz stepping into the campaign really escalates it.”

Starbucks has nearly 15,000 U.S. stores, including locations in every one of the 50 states. Right now, it’s more ubiquitous in urban and suburban coastal markets that tend to skew Democratic, but it’s targeting an expansion in the Midwest and Sun Belt for the next wave of growth.

In those markets, including many states that voted for President Trump, an independent political campaign could serve to introduce customers to the liberal-leaning politics of Starbucks.

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