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McDonald's McCafe Coffee Now Available at Your Local Supermarket

McDonald's has had a decidedly mixed history with coffee. For years, the company emphasized convenience over taste, turning out a predictable (if bland) product that nonetheless anchored its breakfast lineup. The company and its coffee became a punchline of sorts after an infamous 1994 civil suit involving an Albuquerque woman and a cup of McDonald's coffee.

McDonald's breaks into retail with its new McCafe packaged coffees

 

It came as something of a surprise, then, when the restaurant made coffee part of a rebranding effort in the mid-2000's. Rather than simply improving the quality of their beans, the fast food stalwart made an unexpected move: going head-to-head with Starbucks by attempting to compete on price, convenience, and better quality than most people had associated with the McDonald's brand up to that point. The bigger surprise was that, to a large extent, it worked. While McDonald's wasn't forcing the closures of Starbucks locations, the McCafe brand -- which introduced lattes and iced coffee beverages alongside the company's usual brewed coffee, and which in some locations sought to set the McCafe component apart from the burgers-and-fries portion of the business -- gave the company a shot in the arm.

As it turns out, McDonald's had more in store. The company hasn't exactly joined the Third Wave, but there've been subtle hints that something was afoot. One unexpected twist was finding a page on McDonald's website touting their relationship with the Gaviñas, a family of Cuban expats who supply the company with its beans. The company also touts its responsible relationships with growers:

"As of 2012, about 25% of our total global coffee bean purchases were from Rainforest Alliance Certified™, Fair Trade USA or UTZ Certified farms. The majority of our certified coffee purchases are from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms, including 100% of our espresso in the U.S. and Canada. This is moving us toward our goal of 100% verified sustainable coffee, both hot and iced, by 2020."

Another more recent development finds McDonald's, this time in partnership with Kraft Foods, taking aim squarely at competitors Starbucks (which relied on Kraft for retail distribution 'til 2011) and Dunkin' Donuts yet again. If it hasn't already, McDonald's McCafe is coming to store shelves near you, thanks to a partnership that was first announced in August, 2014. It will be available in whole beans or ground (bagged), as well as single-serve options like the ubiquitous K-Cup. A 12-ounce bag is expected to retail between 7 and 8 dollars, and will come in Premium (medium) Roast, French (dark) Roast, Colombian (medium-dark) Roast, Breakfast Blend (light roast), French Vanilla, and Premium Decaf.

Is this a game-changer? If we take the wide view, it's doubtful that this move has any broader implications for the coffee business as a whole. McDonald's can't compete in the same space occupied by the Third Wave, lacks the brand cachet of second-wave stalwarts Starbucks and Peet's, and may struggle to gain a foothold alongside mass-market coffees like Dunkin' Donuts, Martinson, and Maxwell House if they can't sell customers on the perception of higher quality.

With that said, it's clearly time for a change; McDonald's faces declining sales, and its brand -- once nearly synonymous with a certain idea of America -- hasn't aged well. The Kraft venture, then, may represent a move to increase sales, while possibly reaching customers who may think fondly of the McDonald's name but who haven't set foot in a franchise in quite some time. Video: McDonald's touts "flavor we can all be passionate about": Postscript: If, like us, you'd rather get a nice cup of fresh-brewed coffee that hasn't sat for weeks on a grocer's shelf, try our Tribeca Medium Roast whole bean coffee.