We can now see the coffee war is only just beginning, but outside the lucrative profit margins to be claimed in cocoa beans, the question remains: why? Why is McDonald's pursuing Starbucks like an awkward Star Wars nerd chasing the slim, progressive, theater girl, who's way out of his league? Back up for just a second. Why did that metaphor seem to work?
What is it about McDonald's and its band of fast food chums that keeps them orbiting in a lower cultural galaxy than the Starbucks clique? What makes it socially acceptable, even a touch uppity to claim to go to Starbucks four to five times a week, yet abjectly humiliating to admit to the same frequency of visitation to Taco Bell? When we answer that question, we'll get better insight into a fast food push driven by much more than rolling out another product.
Focusing on America, the site of close to 50% of fast food consumption, there are two driving factors of differentiation: the clientele and the root drug.
The clientele of regulars is qualitatively different from those at McDonald's. The price gouging for something one can easily brew at home ensures this. And people see fast foodies as fatties. And that's bad. Not that one Starbucks drink can't contain upwards of 400 calories, but for its customers, that often serves as their whole lunch.
This ties into the root drug driving business. At McDonald's, it's fat (salt and oil), the after effects of which leave its patrons lethargic, and of little use to society. Meanwhile, Starbucks hops its customers up on caffeine, the lifeblood of capitalism, cultivating an atmosphere of wiry, bloodshot yuppies, yammering away on wireless headsets or whiny blogs. Either way, they give the appearance of grinding the gears of progress.
Will McDonald's take the Five Guys approach?