The gourmet-coffee war pits two brands that entered Chicago supermarkets for the first time this year. Starbucks launched a test of six supermarket blends in August; Millstone, which P&G bought in 1995, arrived in March.
In a TV, radio and outdoor campaign that broke this month, P&G claims Chicago consumers in blind taste tests chose Millstone's Breakfast Blend over the House Blend of an unnamed "leading specialty coffee chain" by a 2-1 margin.
But ads by N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York, leave little doubt which chain that is.
A voice-over in one 30-second spot says: "You have to wonder what business that leading specialty coffee chain is really in" as an employee at a shop with an obvious knockoff of Starbucks logo hawks T-shirts and novelties.
Another :30 shows a coffee shop employee donning protective gear and firing up a welder's torch to prepare some "Casa Flambe" as a voice-over asks: "What if instead of that bitter overroasted taste, you want simply great-tasting coffee?"
P&G also has dispatched a "Coffee Cruiser" and sampling team equipped with Millstone backpacks on foot to gain trial for the brand, a spokeswoman said.
Starbucks is not amused, and a spokesman noted: "Starbucks has never engaged in advertising that compares our product to others in a taste-test format."
Chicago has been one of Starbucks' strongest markets, with 90 stores, including its first outside the Pacific Northwest.
Millstone is focusing on Chicago because the brand is relatively new there, P&G's spokeswoman said, not to counter Starbucks' test. The brand is in the process of being rolled national.
P&G hasn't used the ad campaign or sampling program in other markets where it recently gained distribution for Millstone, but the spokeswoman didn't rule out expanding the program.
Millstone sales totaled $17.6 million for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 14, says Information Resources Inc., up more than 30% and edging Brothers, formerly the