Counter Culture

Order up! Next up in the coffee war between Starbucks and McDonald’s is patter. A tone of welcome and reassurance has been the hallmark of Starbucks service. But now, the hamburger giant will attempt to deliver a little compassion with their new coffee line. That, plus an aggressive expansion plan will look to gouge a big hole in Starbucks market share. Expect more caffeine-flavored, specialty coffee drinks in McDonald’s over 14,000 restaurants. Its line of mochas, lattes and cappuccinos, served hot or iced, is expected to ratchet up the company’s challenge to Starbucks’ coffee throne.

But how will a McDonald’s mocha fly among the RenGen? In the Silicon Valley, where java is the pick-me-up of choice for the wireless set, the San Jose Mercury News reports a strong “cultural bias” against the idea. “I can’t imagine going for a coffee in a place that smells like junk food,” said Ilan Twig, a 34-year-old software company manager from Cupertino. “I wouldn’t do it if they paid me.”

What’s at work here is deeper resistance to being pegged as someone who might subscribe to mass-marketed fast food. The RenGen will not open their minds nor their wallets to brands that have for years relied on one-size-fits all food and messages that promoted it. Furthermore, the sensorial attributes of fast food emporium versus coffee house are a total non-compete. Who wouldn’t opt for the aroma of coffee over frying grease at 8AM? But it will be fascinating to see if McDonald’s can compete with the counter culture Starbucks has created, and which it’s founder Howard Schultz believes is its secret weapon. “Hey, how’s it going? Want fries with that latte?”