Sprucing Up Coffee

Burger King joins other fast-food chains with improved brews

MIAMI -- Facing upscale coffee heat not just from Starbucks but from the likes of Dunkin' Donuts, 7-Eleven and ExxonMobil stores, fast-food giants are brewing up fancier java to compete, according to a report from Gannett News Service.

On Thursday, Burger King officially launched its BK Joe, which is brewed 100% from premium arabica beans. Sold in decaf, regular and "turbo strength" (extra caffeine), the coffee will be in all of Burger King's more than 7,000 U.S. stores by the end of November, according to the report.

BK Joe is aimed at giving the chain more profit from the nation's coffee craze. Eighty percent of Americans drink coffee--53% every day vs. 49% in 2004--reports the National Coffee Association.

Joining Burger King with better brews to go after those drinkers:

McDonald's tested a premium roast and plans a national rollout soon.

Chick-fil-A added a Cafe Blends line this summer.

Subway is trying gourmet java in some stores to lure morning traffic.

Beverages are important in the restaurant business as a typically low-maintenance, high-profit item. "Depending on how you price it, you can make 90% margins-plus," Joe Pawlak, a consultant at industry tracker Technomic, told Gannett.

Quick-serve hot coffee sales in the United States this year are expected to be $11 billon, with about half at coffee shops such as Starbucks, according to Chicago-based Technomic. Regular-coffee dollar sales are expected to grow 7% annually for the next three years, while specialty drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos are pegged to grow 15% annually.

However, it's not Starbucks' customers that Miami-based Burger King is trying to win. It is looking, with BK Joe, to keep its coffee-loving customers from being lured away by the improved quick cups of joe being rolled out by fast-food rivals, as well as convenience stores and gas stations.

"Our customer isn't likely to wait in line at a Starbucks or coffeehouse," said Burger King chief concept officer Denny Marie Post. "They're going elsewhere for a consistent cup of coffee, (such as) gas stations and convenience stores."

Last October, ExxonMobil launched its Bengal Traders coffee line. The gourmet blends are available in more than 1,200 Tiger Mart stations. While ExxonMobil would not disclose sales, "We're encouraged by our first year," said Russ Ritenour, manager for dispensed beverages.

Even as Burger King ups its coffee offerings, the competition continues to improve brews, too. Today, 7-Eleven is expected to announce the addition of a World Roasts gourmet line to its already upgraded selections.