Can Coffee Save Starbucks and McDonald’s?

A few sour notes out of this week’s issue of Business Week (11/23/09 edition) regarding both McDonald’s and Starbucks newest coffee-related ventures.

McDONALD’S- The numbers are sagging for McDonald’s. US same store sales are down slightly, morning commute traffic is weak, and more people are eating at home. Unfortunately, McCafe has not been the savior that the Golden Arches expected it to be. As McD’s said, “They’re not lighting the world on fire.” Some people even argue that ad dollars were wasted on the upscale coffee line that would’ve been better spent fighting rivals.

I’m both saddened and enlightened by the news. On the one hand, I’m happy to see coffee given a higher office at the fast food giant. On the other, it’s not the way I like to see coffee presented. McDonald’s will only ever have generalized coffee, coffee products with no specific roasters, farms, or labels. They’ve attempted to turn upscale coffee into yet another fast food item. With that said, I hate seeing coffee get the blame for anything going wrong over at Ronald’s house o’ burgers.

STARBUCKS- Apparently, I’m not the only person not overjoyed about Via, Starbucks’ new instant coffee. The secondary title to this week’s article stated, “Baristas are angry and customers put out over the aggressive rollout of (heavens!) an instant coffee line.” CEO Howard Schultz said, “We knew it could undermine the company if we didn’t do it right.” Everyone seems upset from seller to buyer because of the hard-sell tactics Starbucks wants their frontline employees to use to force it on customers. Baristas aren’t happy with it and customers are tired of it. But is it worth it? Starbucks thinks so, eyeballing the $21 billion global instant coffee market, they hope to grab a piece of.

What do I think? I think a fallback to instant coffee for Starbucks is a sellout tactic, a bastardization of the principles they claimed to stand for. How much are their principles worth? For now, I would say $2.95 for a three-pack.

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