McDonald's Starts First Free-Coffee Promo Just as Taco Bell Blitzes Breakfast

Golden Arches Looking to Get More Consumers Interested in McCafe

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Credit: Tony Pettinato

McDonald's will give away coffee at breakfast for the first time, the company said Friday -- one day after Taco Bell began a massive marketing campaign for its new breakfast menu.

In recent years, McDonald's has had a continuing promotion for $1 cold drinks such as iced tea, but this is the chain's first free national coffee promotion. It will start Monday and last two weeks, the company said. The small coffees will be available during breakfast hours, a part of the day that McDonald's dominates by a wide margin.

"This event is McDonald's way of encouraging new guests to try McCafe Coffee while giving our breakfast lovers even more reason to enjoy the great taste of our signature blend," said Greg Watson, senior VP-McDonald's U.S. menu innovation, in a statement.

McDonald's in January said during a conference call for its fourth quarter results said that coffee and the marketing of it would be a priority, a reaffirmation of an announcement the chain made in November.

The promotion comes not just after Taco Bell's incursion into mornings, which is sure to create some competition for the Golden Arches, but as Starbucks continues to increase sales at a rate that McDonald's isn't. Starbucks, after all, in 2013 had its best year in the company's history, with global same-store sales up 6% from the prior year and same-store sales in the Americas up 7%.

McDonald's global same store sales were up 0.2%, while U.S. same-store sales also declined 0.2% and comparable guest counts declined 1.6%. In 2012, McDonald's U.S. sales were up 3.3%.

McDonald's, which rolled out McCafe in 2009, has worked to position the line as a premium offering on par with Starbucks.

As part of the promotion, McDonald's will host "Make Friends with McCafe" sampling events at what it called high-traffic locations and transportation hubs in multiple cities across the country.

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