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Business Week reported on McDonald’s expansion of its McCafés in Europe and like so many other reports regarding increased coffee competition in the U.S. that have come before it, implied that Starbucks will be the likely loser.  There are some definite differences in the way MCD is growing its McCafé business in Europe relative to in the U.S. and the outcomes are, therefore, likely to be different.  In both regions, I don’t recognize McCafé as a significant competitive threat to Starbucks.

We all know where I stand on the U.S. initiative; McCafé will not provide the added sales layer that so many are anticipating and it will not provide the necessary returns.  In the U.S, MCD did not build a separate café section, but rather, the bulk of the McCafé investment came from new equipment costs and the cost to remodel the drive-thru to accommodate this new equipment.

In Europe, MCD’s McCafé remodel includes adding a café area to existing restaurants with a separate counter and comfy furnishings.  Although the article correctly points out that because the café is located within a McDonald’s restaurant, it will still smell like a McDonald’s, the addition of the café does provide more of a coffee house environment than is present in the U.S. 

The more important difference, however, stems from franchisee support of the McCafé rollout.  In the U.S., there was a lot of “noise” in the system regarding MCD’s decision to nationally launch McCafé.  A lot of franchisees openly communicated their opinions that the test market performance did not warrant a national rollout.  The Business Week article points out that “European franchisees like McCafés because they encourage customers to stop in for breakfast and during off-peak hours. Store revenues jump 20% to 25% after adding a new McCafé, says Michael Heinritzi, McDonald's No. 1 European franchisee, with nearly 40 stores across Germany and Austria.”  Franchise support is often a strong indicator of future success because franchisees will typically only want to invest in something if they have seen proven results. The results appear to have convinced European operators where as the test markets in the U.S. left many franchisees concerned.

I don’t know enough about McCafé results thus far in Europe to know if it will prove to be a successful strategy for McDonald’s but it seems to be more promising than in the U.S., which I continue to think will be a failed strategy.  Relative to Starbucks, I continue to think that even with McDonald’s adding cafés in Europe that the two companies offer a completely different experience which will appeal to two different consumers.  McDonald’s will maintain its fast-food image first and foremost before that of a coffee destination.