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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coffee wars

Maybe Starbucks has been too successful for its own good. With over 11,000 locations worldwide, Starbucks is to coffee what McDonald's is to hamburgers - and McDonald's for one is not happy about it. Even though the two chains could not be more different in terms of menu, ambience, and operating philosophy, they are inevitably fighting for the same thing - the dollars and cents of consumers.

McDonald's recently revealed its latest weapon in the fight against Starbucks and other competitors, introducing premium coffee to its menu. And to ensure that this launch would not go unnoticed, McDonald's employees have blitzed the streets of downtown Chicago, handing out coupons for free cups of this new, supposedly improved coffee. Walking to work one day last week, I received close to a dozen coupons from various employees working the streets.

But Starbucks is not one to sit still while a competitor intrudes upon its territory. In true Starbucks fashion, the company staged a huge event: the "National Coffee Break." For two hours last Wednesday, Starbucks provided customers with free cups of coffee at all of its stores.

I, for one, am a bit over-caffeinated by now. I don't think it was from the McDonald's coffee, though - the premium coffee still tastes watery to me (and I don't like that the employees add the cream and sugar. I would rather do it myself). However, about 4-ounces into the cup of Starbucks, my hands started shaking and I could feel my heart pounding. Strong stuff!

I don't know who will win the coffee war. All I know is that I'd better not touch any more caffeine for awhile.

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