Mc Café’s mimetic strategy: Starbucks’ bugbear?

By Anaëlle DANICAN

The Mc Café concept was launched first in Melbourne, Australia in 1993. In 2003, Mc Café has become the biggest coffee chain in Australia and in New Zealand.

Since then, the number of Mc Café around the world has increased and Mc Café has been considered as a great competitor for Starbucks. Today, there is more than 1300 Mc Café worldwide1.

What is the Mc Café concept?

The Mc Café concept is to propose a friendly and accessible place with a wide range of hot drinks and pastries mostly, to develop their traffic outside of regular eating hours. Sounds familiar?

There are few standalone Mc Café in the world (Canada, Philippines…).


(Downloaded from Google Images: BGC Art center in the Philippines)

Most of the Mc Café around the world are integrated into the Mc Donald’s fast food2.


(Downloaded from Google Images)

Thus, it mostly appeals to Mc Donald’s customers that are already sitting there. This is not necessarily a good point because Mc Café customers (non fast-food customers) actually mix with the fast-food customers.


How does Mc Café compete with Starbucks?

If we look deeply into Mc Café’s strategy, we can see that it is quite close to the Starbucks’ strategy.

Indeed, for instance, Mc Café and Starbucks offer similar products: hot drinks and pastries, and both of them have diversified their offers, by adding cold drinks to appeal to more customers.

In addition, the few standalone Mc Café are based in places that have a high-end image, with a lot of traffic. Through that strategy, Mc Café is trying to increase the brand image and not being systematically associated to the Mc Donald’s Coffee. This is not a widespread strategy. Even though in some countries, Mc Café might be considered as good as Starbucks, in France for instance, this is not the case (eg. Brand perception survey).

Both Mc Café and Starbucks have used the free wifi as a growth strategy, based on the assumption that a customer that is able to connect would stay longer than another customer3. And besides, time is money. A customer that stays longer would consume more.

Furthermore, Mc Café’s employees are also called “baristas”, just like in Starbucks. They are trained to what we call the “Latte art” that consists in designing forms with the milk on the top of the coffee foam4.


(Downloaded from Mc Café’s website)


When Starbucks broke its contract with Kraft Foods (USA counterpart of Mondelez International) in 1998, Mc Café entered in the arena and decided to sell its products onto the retailers’ shelves as well. In 2013, Mc Café concluded a deal with the same company to distribute its products: coffee beans, individual coffee capsules, and coffee powder packs5.

According to Tony Vernon, CEO of Kraft Foods, this strategy’s goal is to allow Mc Café lovers to enjoy their coffee in the comfort of their own place as well5.


(Downloaded from


(Downloaded from LSA CONSO 6)

Similarly, like Starbucks proposing their cold drinks in bottles, Mc Café decided to do the same with their “Frappé”.


(Downloaded from Google Images)

Because Mc Café seems to have a similar strategy than Starbucks, customers all around the world do a lot of comparisons between the two brands on Youtube videos7.

Maybe it is time for these two brands to show signs of differentiation.
















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