Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Iced Coffee Wars


I loathe McDonald's.

To me, McDonald's epitomizes the worst of American capitalism. It is a shark-like, expand-or-die corporate juggernaut seeking relentlessly to create a world empire to sell an addictive product that promotes ill health and obesity, while pillaging the environment, undermining commercial and agricultural diversity, creating enormous waste with its excessive packaging, and appealing to lowest common denominator tastes. Plus the food sucks.

Okay, so maybe it tastes good in a flavor-engineered, can't -eat-just-one, corn-chip sort of way. But I haven't liked the food for years, and ate my last quarter pounder several years ago. I set foot in McDonald's occasionally, but only to use the bathrooms -- which are consistently clean, I'll give them that -- and if they seem to be enforcing a customer's only bathroom policy, I'll buy a small Coke or small fries.

So why did I go into a McDonald's today?

I stopped in McDonalds' while making the beautiful drive eastward from Albany through the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts on my way to Northampton. I was stoked for this drive by a medium Dunkin Donuts iced coffee. For well over a year now, Dunkin Donuts has been my steady BARIC ("Best Available Road Iced Coffee"). Readers of this blog know how important iced coffee is to me. When I'm on the road, in unfamiliar surroundings, I can count on Dunkin's iced coffee to be consistently refreshing and tasty. It's now a standard offering in all Dunkin Donuts stores, and they've established a consistent quality, and trained their counter workers to make it reliably.

Dunkin's very good iced coffee will never be great, given that it's hot-brewed then chilled. The very best iced coffee -- such as the Grandma Moses iced coffee pictured in my avatar -- is cold-filtered. But Dunkin's is better than pretty much anything else that's widely available (including Caribou Coffee, whose purportedly cold-filtered iced coffee is mediocre).

The corporate people at Dunkin Donuts have finally realized that they have a real asset. Iced coffee is a popular item in the summer. It has (I'm guessing) a higher profit margin than hot coffee, since the drink, bulked up with ice, can fetch a higher retail price for less net liquid than hot brew. And with the right marketing, it could probably be turned into a year round drink. I drink it year round, and I'm no freak. Well, maybe at least a 3-season drink.

Anyway, Dunkin's marketing people are hitting the iced coffee hard. And ominously, for them, some other corporate people have taken notice.

Above: Dunkin Donuts populist iced coffee marketing strategy promotes a "do it yourself" culture, using Dunkin's own blend. The recipe? Hot brew at double strength, chill, then add an equal amount of water.

Below: Dunkin's broader coffee war includes attack ads aimed at the low-end competition.

* * * * *

When I drove past the first billboard, I thought I must have been hallucinating. When the same billboard ad came up further along the road, I slowed down to make sure I was reading it right.

It was true: McDonald's -- McDonald's! -- was pushing a new addition to its menu: iced coffee! But not just any iced coffee -- "Newman's Own" Organic iced coffee!

How could I not at least try it?

I pulled over at the very next McDonalds'. B insisted on waiting in the car, as I went inside. There was the familiar flourescent, tile-floored, formica-and-pleather interior with the backlit plastic menu, and the ketchup-and-yellow color scheme, all of which combine intoan ambience that is so consistently revolting, worldwide.

But I'll be damned -- the iced coffee was good. It was very good. Maybe better than Dunkins. Yep, probably better than Dunkins.

Is this anything less than a full blown iced coffee war? And a world war at that? Viewed as a titanic showdown between two fast food giants, McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts, it would be interesting enough. Dunkin could certainly have viewed coffee as its own turf: with coffee-and-donuts being such a natural pair, Dunkin has a lot at stake in in the widely held perception that its coffee is superior to that of McDonald's. Certainly, you can imagine a peaceful co-existence of the two chains -- dinner at Micky-D's followed by dessert at Dunkin's -- but McDonald's' unquenchable thirst for world domination won't let them be satisfied until an upstart chain like Dunkin's is reduced to a weak satellite state, if not wiped out entirely. McDonald's' coffee move is as much an invasion of Dunkin's territory as if Dunkin had undertaken to market the best french fries.

But, like a world war, other states are drawn in. By offering organic coffee, McDonald's not only tops Dunkins, but has also essentially crossed the customer border with the high-end coffee boutique chains whose customers would care about such high-end niceties as organic coffee. Yes, McDonald's has launched a surprise attack on Starbucks.

Like the United States when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Starbucks is woefully unprepared for entry into this war. They simply do not have a basic iced coffee weapon to deploy. Their exotic iced lattes lack the mass appeal, the clear, clean coffee taste and the competive prices of genuine iced coffee. For years, Starbucks has been trying to mollify us iced coffee drinkers with wretched americanos, a vile drink made by pouring hot espresso over ice on the sadly mistaken assumption that the added strength of the espresso brew somehow makes up for the diluting effect of the instant ice-cube melt. Now, Starbucks will have no choice but to escalate the conflict by offering iced coffee of its own.

To me the strangest aspect of this new iced coffee war is the McDonalds' - Newman's Own alliance. Like the Nazi-Soviet pact which shocked the world in 1939, the McDonalds'-Newman's joint venture links two corporate philosophies that seem completely at odds. The Newman's Own brand has been associated with the relatively modest, politically-correct organic niche market. They donate (or used to) their profits to charities. Doesn't Newman's Own oppose everything McDonalds' stands for? What was Newman's thinking when they made this bargain with the devil: do they think that they can somehow play McDonalds for a purpose the serves the greater good -- the promotion of organic coffee?

The Newman's people are playing a dangerous game. I suspect that, like Hitler, McDonalds is much smarter than everyone tends to think, and will themselves do the playing.

How many times can I hold my nose to actually go inside a McDonalds for this iced coffee?

And what about us consumers? Do I patronize McDonalds for the better coffee, or stick with Dunkin as the lesser of two corporate evils? Can we remain neutral in such a world crisis?

If I want a donut, I'll get it at Dunkin', coffee and all. I don't care what happens to Starbuck. Never saw the attraction.

Read recently that McDonald swill change its decor (and colors). Soft seating (living room atmosphere, TV even. They want you to loiter.

oops McDonalds will
No, anon, you got it right the first time.

pccqmkd (PICK-em-kid): how parents fill out lottery tickets.
in defense of mcdonalds -- while the food is dangerous and awful, mcdonald's was the safe place to hang out for hours when i was in my wanna-be-a-delinquent teenager. they never chased you away, and a cup of coffee for a quarter bought you a seat for the whole night while you and your friends could pretend to be cool. life most certainly didn't not get better when i got the fake id needed to move my operation to the jolly bull pub at the junction of nostrand and flatbush avenues.


rlonbs -- orlon bullshit -- a cheap synthetic fabric used for the kind of women's clothes often worn by patrons of mcdonalds.
Cool reflection in the third pic!
McDonalds competing with Starbucks may not be such a bad thing: perhaps the two giants will bleed each other white...

okmadq: Inuit, smoker for oily fish.
I think you defeated your own argument by bringing Hitler into it. You do know about Godwin's Law, don't you?

But it was funny all the same.

Does this mean that Newman has sold out? Kinda sorta seems that way to me. And what exactly is the difference bewteen coffee and "organic coffee"? I didn't think the coffee plantations of South America did a lot of pesticides in the first place. In other words, isn't all the coffe "organic"??

fbiluf - the act of disguising a wad of cash to appear to hold much higher denominations than is actually there.
vrkgns - (1) someone who has never used any virtual reality (vr) devices.

(2) Someone who wears Birkenstocks, and has yet to experience sexual congress.
Yep, McDonalds restrooms come in handy. Also, once in awhile I eat one of those cheap soft serve cones on a hot, humid day -- but skip all the other stuff.
(Starbucks!? why bother)

mzjgxumm: my mouth is too full of gum to talk.
I experienced similar shock when the only place that served fresh fruit in an Oasis travel stop in Illinois (or was it Wisconsin?) was McDonald's. Granted the walnuts served on the side were candy coated, but still... McDonald's?!?!

xyprbndz (XY PR Bands): Music bands hired by PR firms for promotional functions when the target audience is straight female (XX) or gay male (XY).
I thought I was the only one who thought that, Mcdonalds Iced coffee is definatley better the Dunkin Donuts... and much less expensive too. I live in New Jersey and I have not seen any signs that say its Organic or Newmans own. All I know is I want one everyday. I did get one from D.D.'s recently just to confirm my thoughts and its been Mickey D's ever since.
I agree w/ Anon above. McD is addictive. I need that recipe. Great blog - couldn't agree more.
My wife figured out the Iced Coffee Recipe
I am definitely addicted to McD's iced coffee---but they are not Newman's Own here in Chicago, IL --all the cup says is "Premium Roast Coffee". Oh, and I get one just about everyday--always the "regular" flavor! I have to learn the best way to make my own. I've tried with no success.
As yet another McD's iced coffee addict, I was saddened to find the recipe link above not valid. Can it be corrected or has it 'been removed'??
After MANY failed attempts to try to duplicate McDonald's Iced Coffee, I believe I finally have a very close version of it.
A little history first. I have been ordering the Sugar Free Vanilla version to save calories, but I wanted to also make this decaf (I drink it after dinner) and lowfat. The following recipe, even though lowfat and decaf, is very close. Enjoy!

McDonald’s Iced Coffee
(Lowfat, sugar free and decaf version)
~ 70 calories

 16 oz. cup Ice Cubes
 ¼ C. Sugar Free French Vanilla Coffee Mate
 ½ C. Skim Milk
 1 pkt. SPLENDA® Flavors for Coffee, French Vanilla
 ¾ C. Coffee prepared as follows:
(Note: The brand and the strength are very important)

Brew strong coffee (3 scoops coffee per 5 cups water), using Newmann’s Organic Decaf (made by Green Mountain). Let coffee cool completely.


 Fill 16 oz. cup with ice cubes
 Add Coffee Mate
 Add skim milk
 Add Splenda
 Add coffee
 Stir
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