Because I’m a total coffee nerd, I’ve been watching the McDonald’s-Starbucks coffee war with great interest. I’ve had the new McDonald’s drinks (road trip + wife likes the shakes) and they’re — erratic. One was good, the others ranged from passable to bad.
I realized, though, that Starbucks has really invited this. Their current espresso machines are entirely push-button: plus button, beep, extra-hot! minus button, beep, add a shot, beep beep — there’s almost nothing to do for the baristas. If they’ve reduced coffee to pushing buttons, well, McDonald’s employees can push buttons too. If it’s about the beans then, it’s tougher to match the Starbucks roast-and-deliver infrastructure, but heck, if they really wanted they could overnight roasted beans from someone good.
Then what? In terms of drip coffee, the Clover potentially gives them a sustainable competitive advantage over everyone else because they’ve got unique machines protected with a moat of patents. But I’d never really considered how much Starbucks’ long move towards machines with greater and greater amounts of automation has opened the door for other people to compete with them on their most central product.
I think that Starbucks brought this on themselves with the addition of the (surprisingly good) breakfast sandwiches. Those really altered the balance of McDonalds/fast food outlet for breakfast and coffee at Starbucks/other coffee chain. By putting those two together and McDonalds really had to step up and start offering good coffee products.
A great example was on the morning of RAMROD. It’s 5:30AM, I’m in Enumclaw and I’m not going to make two stops before I get out of town. With that agenda, Rob and I had a coffee and an egg-sausage sandwich while never leaving Starbucks. In a world without breakfast sandwiches I probably would have hit McDonalds and suffered through their drip coffee.