Cancel OK

McDonald’s launches imitation Starbucks


I’ve never cared for Starbucks.

When its first store opened in San Francisco in 1992, I bought a pound of its coffee to make at home. I didn’t care for it. I gave the rest to friends who may or may not have liked it better. And the coffee they serve in the shop just tastes bad to me.

Headshot of Richard Smoley

It doesn’t completely surprise me, then, to see the big-league caffeine dispensary stumbling in recent weeks. Its shares have lost $11 billion in value since November 16.

The causes of the decline are manifold, including widespread labor agitation for improvements in wages and hours, a strike on the company’s annual promotional Red Cup Day on November 16, and a tweet from Starbucks Workers United calling for solidarity with the Palestinians, triggering the usual reactive boycotts. Some even point to layoffs in far-off Egypt as a sign of cash problems.

Other sharks in the tank are smelling blood (to use one of those vicious metaphors beloved in business journalism). McDonald’s is launching a new iteration of itself that resembles Starbucks. Using (if not overusing) the Scottish patronymic, they’re calling it CosMc’s (pronounced “cosmics”­). They’re initiating a 10-store test by opening one location in Bolingbrook, IL.

The company is calling it a $100 million opportunity. It is impossible to see it as anything but a direct challenge to Starbucks. Take a look at its menu to see why.

Offerings include the usual rip-offs of Italian coffee concoctions—even a Turmeric Spiced Latte. Other choices: iced teas and lemonades (Sour Tango Lemonade, Berry Hibiscus Sour-ade); slushies and frappes (Sour Cherry Energy Burst; Pomegranate Hibiscus Slush). Sandwiches? No hamburgers, but Egg McMuffins and Sausage McMuffin with Egg (good: to my mind, McD’s breakfast sandwiches are far superior to the dreadful specimens from Starbucks); and McPops, which are donut holes with fillings such as apple cinnamon and hazelnut.

What does this tempting menu bode for fruits and vegetables? Shouldn’t Berry Hibiscus Sour-ade have some berries in it? No: ingredients are lemon inclusion (a semi-candied confection), berry hibiscus kombucha powder, lemonade, and ice. Blueberry Ginger Boost: lemon inclusion; blueberry inclusion; blueberry ginger syrup; a vitamin C shot; iced green tea; and ice.

Even the Creamy Avocado Tomatillo Sandwich doesn’t have avocados or tomatillos, but “avocado tomatillo sauce,” whose number one ingredient is soybean oil. (For a list of menu ingredients, see here)

Although freeze-dried berries feature in some beverages, the only fresh produce on view is the occasional lemon wedge.

McDonald’s imitation certainly flatters Starbucks, but unfortunately here too fresh fruits and vegetables have been laid aside as fast-food choices.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.