And QSR observers (more accurately, one consultant/columnist at QSR magazine) are seeing an opportunity in this for other players, citing "new product launches" that steer away from the "core" business as opportunities for competition to make a big play and boost their own comps.
That's true. But it doesn't explain why the opportunity is there. Understanding why the opportunity is there suggests that not all deviations from the "core" will fail nor will all deviations produce an opportunity for competition to boost their own same-store year-over-year (comp) sales.
McCafe, by the way, has been around for years. We just have not seen it in the USA. According to my friends in Argentina (from whence all the South American and, I think, a few Caribbean stores are managed and quite independently of the mother ship, in many ways and contrary to popular opinion) the concept of a McCafé as an in-store add-on originated in Latin America. Free-standing McCafé's have been in China for years (and probably elsewhere but I don't care about and rarely travel to continental Europe--I'm a Swede and a Chinese dude, these days, and don't know nuthin about birthin' no McCafe's on the continent).
In South America, McCafe is a small, clean, pastry-filled delight, and at flagship stores, its more nifty than the most upscale pastry place you can imagine. But with better lighting, more upscale design, and more high-rollers with their McBooks (no, MacBooks) hanging about and sipping on decent quality coffee.
Franchisees in the USA don't know how to do this, don't have room, and aren't committed to it, despite how the McD Main Shop might like to beat them over the head with the Big Red Book of Franchisee Good Behavior and Legal Leverage.
Now, I'm only talking about McCafé in Southern California, Dallas, and San Francisco (where there are damn few Mickie Dees to begin with). So maybe I'm wrong. But I'm right about one thing: an innovation is not always a chink in the armour. But in this case, McCafé may be a big bloody hole. If I were managing a bunch of Starbucks, I'd be tickled pink. McDonalds is training a generation of junior high kids to like coffee, and they'll be ready for Starbucks when they get a real summer job next year. But, oops, meanwhile McD is getting some dough from those teens that others aren't getting. So who is winning, now? I wonder.
Maybe somebody should hire an anthropologist to dive into this. (Oh, yes, you know what the trademarks are in this post, so give me a break.) And to hammer the initial point home: the chinks in the QSR armor of the competition only exist when local store execution doesn't deliver the promise, or when the promise doesn't matter to the people who go there. Will new/returning customers who formerly (or putatively) abjure Mickee Dees come back to find an unfamiliar coffee and, perhaps, spills on the floor and staff who are not 100% sold on the new product when they were already feeling odd about going back in there in the first place?
One last thing: anybody see a similarity between McD and MacOS? I sure do. More on that later. Maybe. [Or maybe not! I'm thinking that McD has once again assured its relevance; but I wonder how much McCafé is really responsible for better McD comps.]
Pacific Ethnography (PacEth) is a globally focused research boutique with staff in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and associates in Brazil and India. We conduct field research, grounded in anthropological theory and method, in food, retail, consumer electronics, personal care, and public policy: www.paceth.com