Burger King to start offering Seattle's Best Coffee
Starbucks, through its Seattle's Best Coffee brand, ups ante for McDonald's in coffee supremacy.
Seattle Times business reporter
Starbucks struck another blow in the fast-food coffee war Tuesday, saying it will sell its Seattle's Best Coffee drinks at 7,250 Burger King shops nationwide by September.
When added to Starbucks' nearly 11,200 U.S. coffee shops and the 9,000 Subway locations where Seattle's Best began selling last year, the coffee chain now has 27,450 U.S. outlets — easily outnumbering McDonald's in an espresso tangle the burger chain launched last year when it rolled out its McCafe drinks and advertising campaign.
The Seattle coffee giant has fought back with billboards, television commercials and the expansion of Seattle's Best Coffee, a lesser-known brand it bought in 2003 that is known for having lighter-roasted coffee than Starbucks.
It is a strategy shift for Starbucks, which once supplied some McDonald's stores in the Pacific Northwest with brewed coffee from Seattle's Best Coffee but has mostly steered away from fast food.
Starbucks declined to widen its relationship with McDonald's a few years ago, when the burger chain approached it about supplying espresso for what became the McCafe rollout.
"We passed because it simply was not a good brand fit, and we're confident that was the right decision," Starbucks spokeswoman Deb Trevino said last spring.
Terms of the latest agreement were not disclosed, but Burger King will sell Seattle's Best Blend coffee, hot or iced, with the option of vanilla and mocha flavors and whipped topping. The drinks will cost $1 to $2.79.
Most fast-food restaurants, which spent recent years expanding their early-morning business, have seen a decline in breakfast diners as unemployment climbs and fewer workers stop on their way to work.
In 2009, total visits to U.S. fast-food locations slipped 3 percent, while traffic during breakfast hours slipped 2 percent, according to research from The NPD Group.
But selling a good-tasting cup of coffee, which often comes with a fat profit margin, is considered a key part of any successful breakfast effort in good times and bad.
Five years ago, Burger King launched its BK Joe coffee brand, which will be retired as Seattle's Best takes over.
Tuesday's announcement marks the beginning of the first sizable change to Burger King's breakfast lineup, which was last revamped in 2007 when the Miami-based chain launched its breakfast-value menu.
Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said the move allows Burger King to sell a highly profitable product and try to bring back customers.
"To me it's just a way to offset the weakness in the breakfast business," Hottovy said. "It's something most (fast-food) restaurants recognize could be a sales driver and helps the bottom line."
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or email@example.com
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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