MONTHLY COFFEE PROGRAMS – WHO WINS, WHO LOSES ?

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MONTHLY COFFEE PROGRAMS – WHO WINS, WHO LOSES ?

I really like Starbucks. It’s my social life in the morning. Everyone in the store knows my name (Roger that!) and my drink (a grande’ soy latte’, no foam, costs $6.04 in Manhattan, including tax). It therefore costs me $2200 annually of after tax money, so it costs well over $3,000 per year, pretax, for my morning coffee experience.

On the other hand………..

As you may have heard, Panera is now offering a monthly coffee program, whereby I can get unlimited coffee for the month for $8.99, any size, any flavor. (no soy for that price, admittedly)

Burger King has been offering, since last March, a monthly coffee subscription for $5.00 per month.

McDonald’s has been offering any size coffee for $0.99. You can also get two breakfast sandwiches for $4.00, so two people can have a McMuffin and cup of coffee for $6.00 plus tax.

Wendy’s is aggressively rolling out a new breakfast program, starting today. They have been promoting “two for $4” sandwich deals for some time, so we can expect the breakfast offerings to be similar. They are planning to spend $40-50M on advertising of the introduction so we can assume they will be aggressively pricing the coffee.

Dunkin’ Brands, with an extensive selection of donuts and other pastries, sells their coffee at $2.00 a cup, more or less, a little less for a “regular”, a little more for “large”.

All these companies are clearly hoping that the customer will buy something else besides the coffee, as long as they are at the store. However, without question, the pricing environment for our morning cup of coffee is getting more competitive..

CONCLUSION:

Away from the publicly traded companies, perhaps Panera, with their established reputation for the quality of their breakfast offerings, combined with their “community gathering place” comfort (pioneered by Starbucks) will see the largest incremental positive effect of their new breakfast program. The publicly held companies will be fighting each other for market share, since nobody has a  “moat”.

Relative to Starbucks: This can’t be a plus. Will it cripple them? Certainly not, but we suggest that the comps will slow rather than accelerate. If only one out of twenty customers makes a switch, it will be noticeable, and there is likely to be at least one of their competitors fairly nearby. They could sell more food but that’s already been the strongest part of their comp growth the last ten years. Their competitors sell food as well, and Starbucks doesn’t have a material edge in that regard. Stocks sell, by the way, based on the “second derivative”, the change of pace of the growth rate, still growing but  how fast?

If there were a Panera or McDonald’s between “my Starbucks” and my office, I would be sorely tempted to adjust, even if I have to make new friends. I could afford to spend another day or two on the golf course 😊

Roger Lipton

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