A customers exits the drive thru lane at a Starbucks coffee shop, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. After four straight quarters of sales declines, Starbucks returned to growth in the January-March period. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

After four straight quarters of pandemic-fueled sales declines, Starbucks is returning to growth.

The Seattle-based coffee giant said Tuesday its sales rose 11% to $6.7 billion in the January-March period. That was just shy of Wall Street’s forecast revenue of $6.78 billion, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson said US growth, in particular, surpassed expectations in the company’s fiscal second quarter. Johnson said US sales grew at both urban and suburban locations __ and at all times of the day __ as vaccinations progressed.

“Customers crave human connection,” Johnson said during a conference call with investors. “Certainly not all markets are moving at the same speed in terms of vaccine distribution, but we know that this is the key that enables all of us to once again be together.”

US same-store sales — or sales at stores open at least a year — rose 9%, compared to a 3% decline in the same period last year. While store traffic fell 10% from a year ago, customers spent more, growing the average ticket by 21%, Starbucks said.

That has been a trend throughout the pandemic as customers’ usual patterns were disrupted. Starbucks has been seeing fewer morning commuters grabbing a single coffee, but larger orders including snacks and frothy drinks when families and others visit drive-thrus later in the day.

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