Independent cafes don't fear McCafe

Philippa Clayton grasped a pitcher of milk, frothed and steamed it to 140 degrees, ground espresso and locked the mechanical arm into her Cimbali espresso machine, all while stirring chocolate syrup.

Two minutes later, the veteran Purple Onion barista placed the $3.25 mocha on the counter.

Three miles away, a woman in red pushed a button and three jets of liquid shot out of a super-automatic espresso machine into a cup.

In exactly 31 seconds, the McDonald's employee placed the $2.89 mocha on the counter.

McDonald's is installing McCafe stations, capable of making espresso coffee drinks, in an attempt to capture part of the specialty coffee market. One is scheduled to be opened soon in the Dinkytown McDonald's, creating more competition for campus coffee.

But local businesses and experts aren't worried about the new competition because of the expanding specialty coffee market.

There are three Starbucks on the University campus alone, along with several other chain and independent coffee shops, and there is more demand for the dark liquid than ever. In 2008, 17 percent of the adult population consumed a specialty coffee drink on a daily basis, compared with 14 percent in 2007, according to the National Coffee Association's Web site.

This growth has created space in the industry for McCafe, Mike Ferguson , spokesman for the Specialty Coffee Association said.

"What we've seen over the last few years is that the convenience sector realized that they can compete with the quality sector by making incremental improvements in the quality of their coffee," Ferguson said.

McDonald's has found a way to "capture some of the specialty market and still maintain a value-driven business model," by focusing on convenience, he said.

But Ferguson stressed that independent coffee shops have nothing to fear, and Clayton agrees with him.

"I don't think [McCafe] is going to be a threat," she said. "If you love your coffee that much, you're not going to go to a McDonald's."

The quality sector of the specialty coffee market will accommodate independent coffee shops and chains that brew "destination coffee," which is of the highest quality and a higher price, Ferguson said.

These shops already purchase coffee beans high above their market price, in search of distinct flavors or fair trade options.

Even in the down economy, the inelastic coffee industry will thrive, Ferguson said. In 2008, 81 percent of American adults are consuming some kind of coffee, according to the National Coffee Association.


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