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  • QA 176
    Question:
    Is the entry of the McDonald's Corporation into specialty coffee positive for the coffee industry?
    Background:
    Is the entry of the McDonalds chain in the specialty coffee business positive for the industry? Could this spread?
    Asked by:
    Academia/press - Mexico
    Answer:

    Initiatives that promote the consumption of coffee are to be welcomed. Thus, we would suggest that coffee producers should see the well-publicised intention of the McDonald's Corporation to install prominent coffee bars and specially trained baristas at its outlets as positive. The number of potential outlets is huge: approximately 14,000 in the United States alone plus many more worldwide, potentially exposing many consumers to new and better quality coffee products.*

    We will not comment on industry reaction because there are extremely varying points of view, ranging from positive to dismissive statements as 'only selling commodity-type coffee'. But, this does raise the question of what is and what is not 'specialty coffee' because reports suggest that the McDonald's Corporation aims at capturing a share of the specialty coffee market. First of all in the United States but eventually worldwide. This suggests the initiative will spread and, if proven successful, others may follow suit.

    In topic 03.01.10 of the Coffee Guide we suggest that individual roasters should probably be classified by the products they market, rather than by the type of coffee they may be roasting. This because many 'specialty products' do not require top of the range coffees and can usually be made by using mainstream (or what some call commodity type) coffee. Therefore, we would also suggest that retailers of such products can claim to be selling specialty coffee: today's specialty industry offers an ever-increasing range of products, ranging from lattes in which little actual coffee is used, to flavoured coffees that are not necessarily made of quality beans.

    In the roasted bean market the term 'specialty' used to suggest single origin coffees that must stand on their merits alone and usually, but not necessarily always, represent the best coffees available from a particular origin. But here again, an increasing proportion of to-day's roasted bean offerings, especially from the larger specialty roasters, consists of blended coffees. This makes it increasingly difficult to draw a line between 'specialty' and 'commodity-type or mainstream' coffee. **

    The specialty industry has its origins in a consumer revolt against declining quality standards in the mainstream industry, particularly so in the United States.  This has given rise to a huge improvement in quality generally and consumer interest in particular. All this has been very positive for coffee consumption. However, sections of today's specialty industry are also guilty of over-describing their products by claiming quality and taste attributes that many consumers, and industry experts, find excessive if not suggesting consumer ignorance. Such claims may become more difficult to justify if more decent quality coffee becomes available at competitive prices…

    To summarise: We believe coffee producers should see the McDonald's initiative as positive and, should it prove successful, then other restaurant and fast-food chains may well follow suit.

    * Note that the McDonald's Corporation has been experimenting with this idea for some time already in a number of locations in different countries under  the McCafe banner.
    **  See also  the following topics on www.thecoffeeguide.org that relate to mainstream versus specialty coffee: 03.01.04; 03.01.05;  and 12.09

    Posted 24 January 2008

    Related chapter(s):
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    Q&A 110, 114