The McCafé view of specialty coffee

“The coffee market has got a bit over-complicated, hasn’t it? But with McCafé, none of the frills or fuss. Only freshly ground beans, making great tasting coffee. It’s simple.McDonalds UK

This is the message of a new advert from McCafé, the café arm of the global fast food chain Mcdonalds. The advert shows a barista preparing coffees through V60 copper drips stands, and bewildered customers looking at coffee menu boards, and being shocked by high prices. The advert is taking ‘a gentle pot shot’ at the specialty coffee industry suggesting that it is too complicated, expensive, and bewildering for the general consumer. You can view the advert below.

Garage Coffee, a UK based specialty coffee roaster, responded to the advert with a blog post discussing what this says about the specialty coffee industry. They question the level of public knowledge over specialty coffee:

“We know great coffee has to come from the best farms and be made to precision by a skilled hand. Brew ratios, precision tamping and microfoam is in our DNA – but does that necessarily translate to the general public? For all the good that is done, is that being lost by being inaccessible?” Garage Coffee (2017)

They have a great attitude in that they appear to be keen to tell people about great coffee without being intimidating. They also justify their prices based on how the coffee is sourced, and what that means for the people working in the coffee industry at the other side of the globe. Their main point is that perhaps the specialty coffee industry should be doing more to educate the public, and where possible be accessible and enlightening for the consumer rather than intimidating or snobbish. They suggest that next time you’re in your local specialty coffee shop ask about the different coffees, or the beans.

A piccolo from Idle Hands in Manchester

A piccolo from Idle Hands, Manchester

In my experience baristas in specialty coffee shops are often only too happy to talk about the coffee options (and about the different beans and blends, brewing methods etc). I know from talking with some consumers that this is not always the case, where sometimes not knowing your coffee, or asking for a type of coffee based drink you would usually find in a chain coffee shop in a specialty coffee shop has been met with a less-than-pleased response from the barista. I’ll admit that when I first started visiting specialty coffee shops and was asked which beans I’d prefer for my espresso I always went for the Columbian option (if there was one), just to pretend I knew what I wanted to order. But after I started to ask about the different coffees I’ve now learnt that actually I’m not a particular fan of single origin Columbian coffee.

Coffee menu at The Gentlemen Baristas

Coffee menu at The Gentlemen Baristas, London

Likewise, I now know I prefer a piccolo over a cortado or a latte, after trying a few different variations. In most cases the chalk board coffee menus often found in specialty coffee shops is not there to be a puzzle but genuinely there to be a menu, and if like in a restaurant you’re not sure, ask the person serving you. From the many times I’ve ended up talking with baristas they seem only too happy to make sure you can get a drink you like – after all they are in the service industry.

While I agree with Garage Coffee that more could be done to let the public know about specialty coffee, about the importance of sustainable coffee (and the implications of this for the price of coffee) a lot of coffee shops are already making an effort to do so – with public cuppings and tastings, and a general friendly approach to serving people who might be new to specialty coffee. Yes, for some people the price of coffee not only in specialty coffee shops, but also the more mainstream chains may seem a lot for a drink, but people are paying for more than coffee too, they are often paying for the possibility of meeting friends in the cafe space, or having a bit of peace and quiet away from the working day – in many cases you’re paying for much more than just the coffee.

At Perfect Daily Grind they say they’re ‘lovin’ it’, to use the McDonalds phrase, as the very fact that McDonalds are mocking specialty coffee suggests that specialty coffee must have a wide enough presence for people to know it exists. They argue that in fact this advert is good news for specialty coffee because it shows specialty coffee as mainstream, McCafé consumers have an opinion about specialty coffee, and the fact the company is spending money on an advert mocking it suggests they are aware of (and even concerned by) the trend for higher quality coffee.

McCafe advert birmingham coffee

McCafé advertising in Birmingham

The advert comes at a time when McDonald’s is making an effort to revamp its McCafé brand, particularly in the US, with  new espresso machines, higher quality coffee and more  seasonal beverages (such as the pumpkin spiced latte) in an attempt to become more of a viable competitor to the large coffee shop chains. They emphasize their cheaper drinks as:

“Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have attracted customers with high-margin espresso, lattes and mochas. Though McDonald’s offers a wide range of coffees these days, it hasn’t become as much of a go-to source for upscale drinks.”(Bloomberg, 2016).

McCafe menu in Kyoto Japan coffee

McCafe menu in Kyoto, Japan

For fast food chains like McDonald’s emphasizing their coffee offering is increasingly important as food sales become under pressure. McCafé according to Euromonitor is in 3rd place in the top ten global specialist coffee shop chains (by sales in 2015), and with such a vast branch network (which for its McCafés is still expanding) the company has already made a mark in the global coffee market.

The new advert promotes McCafé coffee while making fun of specialty coffee showing consumers being confused looking at coffee boards, and experiencing overpriced coffee, in an attempt to promote themselves as the cheaper more straightforward coffee options. But if specialty coffee has become so mainstream it is being mocked by one of the largest fast food companies on the planet, what does this mean for specialty coffee industry? What do consumers know about specialty coffee? Do consumers place price before quality in coffee? Do consumers care about supporting independent coffee businesses? Will consumers continue to pay the prices for coffee seen in specialty and chain coffee shops? Can McCafé really be a competitor to the specialty coffee shop? So many questions – and much more for me to continue researching over time!

This entry was posted in Cafe Culture, Cafe types, Coffee, Commentaries, Consumers, McCafe, Specialty Coffee, UK and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The McCafé view of specialty coffee

  1. cactusjake says:

    Excellent and gracious as always. Thank you for contributing your voice to the subject. I think McCafe will be a competitor with Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other big chain coffee hubs.


  2. nzbarry says:

    I’d say that coffee, like many other products – wine, beer, cheese, pens all spring to mind – has a segmented market. A (growing) minority really cares, and will pay the price and learn about beans, styles, logistics etc – but the majority will just want a lager, or be happy with a Bic ballpoint or cheddar cheese or whatever wine is under 10 quid that’s the right colour.


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