Would You Like a Latte with That?

Even for people who couldn’t care less about the “The Breakfast Wars,” there’s a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about a major cultural change at McDonald’s: In what the Journal calls “the biggest addition to its menu in 30 years,” almost all the locations of the chain will begin adding coffee bars at which baristas will serve “cappuccinos, lattes, mochas and the Frappe, similar to Starbucks’ ice-blended Frappuccino.” McDonald’s plans to put the espresso machines directly on the front counter, which, as the Journal notes somewhat slyly, is “a big shift for a company that has always hidden its food assembly from customers.”

This attempt by McDonald’s to become more like Starbucks follows, of course, the recent attempt of Starbucks, which is offering more hot breakfast and lunch options, to become more like McDonald’s. Financially at least, the Starbucks strategy apparently isn’t working: Over the last year, Starbucks stock is down 48 percent and McDonald’s, which smells blood in the water, saw its stock rise 31 percent.

The new McDonald’s coffee bar is being tested at locations in Kansas City, where a franchisee notes that “[a] lot of our customers don’t know what a latte is.” The new national beverage strategy—I know there’s a national beverage strategy because the Journal quotes McDonald’s vice president of, yes, national beverage strategy—will also include “a soda fountain with flavor shots that allow customers to create their own drinks like cherry Sprite and vanilla Diet Coke.” Revolutionary!

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