So far, McDonald's has said the McCafe drinks are on pace with
that goal. In May, the chain credited frappes as part of the reason
for a 3.4% increase in U.S. same-store sales. Smoothies are also
selling ahead of expectations, McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud
confirmed. So much so that the chain recently asked exuberant
franchisees to curtail promotions in advance of launch.
While the drinks are well-known among urbanites, they have yet
to catch on in the mass market. One sticking point may have been
one of availability. Now McDonald's is putting them in 14,000 U.S.
locations and throwing the switch on its $1.2 billion U.S.
advertising spending. Another is a lack of knowledge about the
products. And so the chain is beginning another education campaign,
having spent much of last spring explaining the latte. Ads from
DDB Chicago, depicts berries and yogurt
going into a blender to create a "real fruit smoothie."
Women seem the most likely target for these sweet drinks, and
McDonald's has undertaken a variety of initiatives in recent years
to woo them into restaurants or entice them to buy something for
themselves while making a stop for the kids. Ad Age decided to stop
by a downtown Chicago location, and get a sense of who is buying
the new beverages and why.
"The idea has been to do as much visible and audible advertising
as possible," said franchisee Nick Karavitis, pointing to signs on
the menu board and recorded messages that greet customers in the
drive-thru, saying, for instance, "We now have smoothies and
frappes." But once national advertising starts, he predicts sales
will go through the roof.
It's not just women, though, a number of men confessed to be
fans. A young man who identified himself as Matt Blank said he was
drinking his eighth frappe and had gotten hooked on the sweet
concoctions. He was unable, though, to convince companion Naomi
Garcia to even have a sip. Ms. Garcia, who described herself as
"basically vegan," had insisted they visit Starbucks next. "I trust
their food," she said.
But the smoothies seemed to be enticing a few vegetarians to the
home of Big Mac. Two women, Saman Sheikh and Trina Wolfson,
separately confided that they hadn't been to McDonald's in years.
They each ordered fries to go with their smoothies, apparently not
realizing the fries are flavored with beef.
A mother and son visiting from Albuquerque praised the
smoothies. Becky Burrage said she makes smoothies at home, but was
pleased with the product.
Not everyone was as complimentary of the frappes. Kate
Falardeau, who said she was having her first lunch at McDonald's in
years, had also ordered her first mocha frappe. "It's more like a
milkshake," she said. "And I wanted something that tasted like
But Taylor Shaw, an area high-school student, said she was
enjoying her caramel frappe. And while she'd had the similar
product at Starbucks, she said the McDonald's version had saved her
money, which was going toward a purse she was going to buy at Water
Another important aspect of the premium beverages is the ability
to build business in off-peak times. While the drinks are an easy
upgrade from a coffee or soda, smoothies and frappes also fit the
bill for a late-morning or mid-afternoon snack. The fast-food
industry has worked hard to drive traffic in middling hours, with
items like snack wraps. Mr. Karavitis noted that the drinks also do
well in the evening, as dessert or even a late-night snack.
Now the problem for McDonald's is what to do about the
tired-by-comparison triple-thick milkshakes. The chain is working
to add a premium touch to the drinks, serving them in clear McCafe
cups and adding whipped cream and a cherry. The chain is also
working on a number of trendier shake flavors and styles. The
Chicago and State location was serving a take on an orange-sherbet
shake with striated layers of white and orange.
And get ready Sonic: the McSmoothie machine is already equipped
with a button for ice-blended strawberry lemonade. The drink itself
is still in test, in a handful of markets, including Michigan and
Our Reporter Learns
to Leave Drink-Making to the Experts
So if I can break stories about McDonald's marketing, I ought to
be able to make one of its smoothies, right? Not so much. After a
few highly supervised minutes operating its state-of the art
ice-blended-drink machine, McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud told
me, "Don't quit your day job."