Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Coffee Wars: Coke vs. Pepsi Redux?

As a coffee aficionado, I've watched with keen interest the battle between Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts over the last number of years.  The competitive pressures that they have placed on each other has been great for consumers but not so great for stockholders of SBUX.  That being said, I'm torn as to where to put my allegiance.   

It seems as if I'm being forced to choose a side as a customer.   SBUX has always been perceived as the high-brow, espresso pouring, intellectual big brother to DD's middle-class, approachable, large-regular coffees.  However, with the advent of latte's and other pseudo barista-like drinks, DD encroached upon SBUX's turf with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. 

Now, I grew up in New England and it was almost viewed as heretical to select SBUX for your morning coffee.  It was and is part of the culture of the region.  Legions of commuters, both train, car and boat, make Dunkies their first stop of every day.  I was one of them for a very long time and still think fondly of my hot cups back then.   Then I began to travel the US, and confound it, I couldn't find DD on my morning commute to a customer site or remote office.  There weren't 75 different stops that I could feasibly make depending on the lines.  I had to resort to *GASP* Starbucks.   

And you know, it was good!  Real good!  I couldn't believe that somebody other than Dunkies could make coffee taste so good.  I was hooked.  Well, try finding a Starbucks in New England 7 years ago.  You would've had better luck finding a Bostonian who pronounced his R's.  I went through withdrawals and couldn't wait to go on my next business trip to find a venti cup of Verona or Gold Coast.  I struggled through my morning rituals until the boys and girls from Seattle finally made a big push into the Northeast and started taking up some real estate.   

Fast forward to the present and I'm being forced again to make a similar choice.  I still love my morning coffee (although I drink the Starbucks at work) and I still prefer my Komodo Dragon over a  regular from DD's but if I want to take my son for a donut, I feel like I have made a conscious decision to "dumb myself down" and go to Dunkies.

The brand wars between the two java giants are taking the wrong approach in my opinion.  Coke vs. Pepsi was one of the great brand wars of all time and made consumers decide on choice.  The brand recognition for both was extremely high and you could argue that both benefitted greatly from the publicity.  Why take the choice to an intelligence or sophistication place?  Can't I have a high degree of culture and still enjoy a hazelnut coffee and jelly donut now and then?  Can't I enjoy a venti cup of bold coffee without being viewed as a stuck up snob?  

Consumers shouldn't be made to feel embarrassed about the coffee choice they make.  They should only be made to feel welcome and satisfied with the hot, steamy cup of caffeinated goodness in front of them.

Where do you go for your java in the morning?  Why?

No comments: