MONEY Food & Drink

7 Reasons Our Coffee Habit Is Costing More These Days

dollar sign made out of coffee beans
Andrew Unangst—Getty Images

In a relatively short period of time, the American coffee habit has gotten a lot more expensive.

Monday, September 29, is National Coffee Day, when restaurant and coffee chains around the country are giving out free (or extremely cheap) cups of Joe to the masses. The day is quite the exception, however, given how as a nation we are spending more and more on coffee.

Here are 7 reasons why:

We’re drinking coffee earlier in life. A study published this year by S&D Coffee & Tea shows that on average, younger millennials start drinking coffee at age 15, while older millennials picked up the habit at 17. Typical members of Gen X, meanwhile, started drinking coffee at 19.

More of us drink coffee regularly. U.S. coffee consumption rose 5% in 2013, according to a National Coffee Association survey, meaning that today 83% of the adult population drinks coffee; 75% have coffee at least once a week.

And we’re drinking higher-priced coffee at that. Data from 2014 shows that 34% of Americans drink gourmet coffee daily, an increase of 3% over last year. Young people in particular are willing to pay higher prices for coffee: In a new PayPal poll, 18% of people age 18 to 34 said they are willing to pay more than $3 per cup, compared with just 8% of those age 50 to 64.

We eat breakfast outside the home more often. Our fast-moving, on-the-go culture has been blamed as a reason for declining sales of cereal and milk, as more Americans are skipping the traditional breakfast at home and opting for foods that can be eaten on the run, like Pop Tarts and fast food via the drive-thru. In fact, breakfast has become enormously important to quick-serve restaurants because it’s the one mealtime experiencing strong growth lately. Coffee purchased at a restaurant or on the go at a convenience store or café is always more expensive than coffee brewed and drunk at home.

One word: Keurig. “In 2002, the average price of a coffee maker was about $35,” a recent post at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management blog stated. “By 2013, that number had risen to around $90.” Truth be told, it’s still easy to find a coffee maker for $35 or even less, it’s just that the type of machine—the traditional kind that brews ground coffee by the pot—is no longer typical. It’s been replaced by the pricier single-cup brewer that came into the mainstream over the last decade thanks to the Keurig company. For many consumers, the speed and convenience of such machines outweighs the premium one must pay beyond the plain old-fashioned coffee maker. Some 1.7 million single-cup Keurig brewers were sold in the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 200,000 over the same period a year before.

Plus, K-Cups themselves are pricier. It’s not just the single-cup machines that cost more—the cups themselves do too. The price per single-serve K-Cup pod varies widely depending on the style of roast, whether you’re buying a small pack or stocking up in bulk, and how strategically you shop for deals. But no matter how good you are at snagging deals, you’ll almost always pay more for coffee pods than you will for old-fashioned ground or whole bean coffee. One price-comparison study conducted a couple of years ago indicated that K-Cup coffee cost more than $50 per pound, roughly four times the cost of a bag of Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts beans. What’s more, K-Cups are subject to a 9% across-the-board price hike in early November. (Side note: Mother Jones and others have pointed out that single-use K-Cups cost more and are worse for the environment than recyclable pod filters, though Keurig Green Mountain has plans to make all K-Cup pods fully recyclable by 2020.)

All coffee is simply getting more expensive. A long-lasting drought in Brazil (the world’s biggest producer of coffee beans) has pushed global coffee prices to near-record highs, and the market may be affected for years to come. Already this year, java junkies have faced price hikes from coffee brands such as Starbucks, Folgers, Maxwell House, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Interestingly, even as coffee has gotten more expensive and economic growth hasn’t exactly been sizzling in recent years, Starbucks sales have outpaced lower-priced competitors Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s. What does that show us? For the most part, coffee lovers are passionate about their caffeinated beverages and aren’t going to trade down to what they view as an inferior cup of Joe, even if doing so would save a couple of bucks here and there.

MONEY

Wake Up! Monday Is National Coffee Day and There’s Free Coffee to Be Had

A sea of to-go coffee cups
Paul Kooiman—Gallery Stock

On Monday, September 29, a.k.a. National Coffee Day, plenty of regional and national restaurant chains will pour you a coffee for free—or at most, $1.

Fake marketing holiday or not, Monday, Sept. 29 is being celebrated as National Coffee Day, and that means free (or nearly so) coffee can be had at several donut, fast food, and coffee specialists around the country. Here’s where to score an extra jolt of caffeine on the cheap:

Dunkin’ Donuts: All customers get a free medium cup of Dark Roast CoffeeDD’s new flavor, a surprising one from the chain—on September 29, and from September 30 to October 5, the same coffee (medium size Dark Roast) is being sold at the special price of 99¢.

Kangaroo Express: A 12 oz. cup of the convenience store chain’s Bean Street Coffee costs just 1¢ from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Monday.

Krispy Kreme: Help yourself to a free cup of 12 oz. coffee, or get $1 off a mocha, latte, or ice coffee.

Lamar’s Donuts: The Colorado-based donut chain is giving away free 12 oz. coffees on National Donut Day.

McDonald’s: Monday is actually the culmination of a two-week coffee giveaway at McDonald’s, which has provided one complimentary small coffee during morning hours since September 16.

Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co.: Customers get a free coffee (hot or ice) with the purchase of any menu item.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea: Participating stores are giving free samples of coffee and espresso, and all beverages are available on a buy-one-get-one-free basis; also, bags of coffee (ground or whole bean) are discounted by $2 apiece at Peet’s on Monday.

Tim Horton’s: The Canadian quick-serve chain gave out free donuts on National Donut Day, but sadly, customers have to cough up actual money for coffee on National Coffee Day. Any size coffee costs $1, and the promotion stretches from September 22 to 29.

Wawa: Fill out a form linked to from the Wawa Facebook page and you’ll get a coupon valid for a free 16 oz. coffee on Monday.

TIME Food & Drink

The 8 Craziest Coffee Drinks You Can Buy Now

Coffee drink latte
Getty Images

The sweetest, booziest and weirdest ways to get your caffeine fix

Long gone are the days when grabbing some coffee involved, well, simply grabbing some coffee. Today’s java landscape is dotted with half-this and iced-that and frappés and mocha lattes (you gotta do pilates) — and it seems the assortment of caffeinated confections is only getting crazier.

Here, a look at some of the most decadent confections being sold today.

1. Guinness-flavored latte

Forget about the beloved pumpkin spice latte, because Starbucks is taking things to a whole new level with its Dark Barrel Latte, which mimics the taste of Guinness (without the alcohol.) The chain recently began testing this new beverage at select locations, so we’ll have to wait and see if it makes it to the official Starbucks menu.

Where to get it: Select Starbucks locations in Florida and Ohio (possibly nationwide in the future)

2. Elephant poop coffee

Yes, really. Deemed the world’s most expensive brew, Black Ivory Coffee is made from Arabica beans from Thailand that first pass through an elephant’s digestive system and are then harvested from the resulting dung. The process brings out the natural sugar in the bean while removing the bitterness, supposedly resulting in a uniquely delicious cup of joe.

Where to get it: Select five-star hotels across Asia, and just one U.S. location in Texas; Beans available online for $779 (with a grinder) or $664 (without a grinder)

3. Coffee in edible waffle cups

Everyone knows the best way to consume soup is in a bread bowl — because when you finish the soup, you get to eat its container! — and one California coffeehouse has applied this concept to its beverages. Customers can order their espressos and macchiatos in edible waffle cups tripled-dipped in chocolate, so when they’re finished with their caffeine boost, they can enjoy a sweet coffee-soaked snack. Perfection.

Where to get it: Alfred Coffee & Kitchen in Los Angeles

4. Affogato

Ice cream or gelato. Topped with a shot of hot espresso. That’s it. Simple, pure bliss.

Where to get it: Many Italian restaurants and cafes will make this drink for you, or you can make one at home

5. Koffie Van Brunt

This decadent, boozy concoction is served at Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance and contains aged rum, Cherry Heering, coffee, and cream. As TimeOut New York once noted, the “swirling layer of ivory white cream, burnished brown java and bright orange zest makes this drink as pretty to look at as it is tasty to sip.”

Where to get it: Fort Defiance in Brooklyn, NY, or make it at home with this recipe

6. The Vincent Vega

This confection — essentially a coffee-spiked Coca-Cola — is named after Jon Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction, who memorably ordered a vanilla Coke with his steak. The drink, available at The Mission in San Francisco, includes Coca-Cola, a shot of espresso, vanilla syrup, served over ice.

Where to get it: Any of The Mission’s three locations in San Francisco

7. Coffee Beer Repeat

Can’t decide if you’re in the mood to take the edge off with a beer or add a little edge with coffee? At Houndstooth, a coffee shop in downtown Austin, you don’t have to make that difficult decision. You can simply order the Coffee Beer Repeat. It’s considered one drink, but really, it’s just two pints of beer and two shots of espresso all served separately. You can get them in whichever order you want and space them out as you choose.

Where to get it: Houndstooth in Austin, or you can make it pretty easily at home

8. Toasted Marshmallow Latte

Like a warm, toasty campfire in a cup, this concoction includes espresso, steamed milk and a roasted marshmallow on a stick. Yes, an ACTUAL ROASTED MARSHMALLOW. On a stick.

Where to get it: Big Shoulders Coffee in Chicago

TIME Food & Drink

Starbucks Is Testing a Drink That Tastes Like Guinness (Without the Alcohol)

Operations Inside A Starbucks Corp. Coffee Shop
Jason Alden—Bloomberg / Getty Images

It's called the Dark Barrel Latte and comes topped with whipped cream and dark caramel sauce

If you’re already panicking about what you’re going to drink once Starbucks stops selling its beloved seasonal pumpkin spice latte, don’t worry, because the chain is now testing out a brand new flavor. This one, though, is not meant to evoke the feelings of strolling through a pumpkin patch in a pair of Ugg boots on a crisp autumn Saturday. Not at all. This one is meant to taste like a nice dark Irish stout.

The new drink, called the Dark Barrel Latte, is being tested at select locations across Ohio and Florida, Grubstreet reports. It doesn’t contain any alcohol, but it supposedly contains the dark, toasty, malty flavors of Guinness. A BuzzFeed writer who got his hands on one in Columbus confirmed that it really does taste like stout. Several customers who’ve tweeted about the drink agree that it tastes like Guinness — but the jury’s still out on whether or not that’s actually a good thing.

When I asked a colleague who was born and raised in Dublin (Guinness’s birthplace) how he felt about all this, he responded first with this GIF. Then, as he mulled it over a bit more, he added, “Holy hell. Worst.” Then he posed a question: “American Guinness already doesn’t taste like Guinness. So what will this taste like?” Then he barfed all over me and my stupid American ignorance.

MONEY freebies

McDonald’s Is Giving Away Free Coffee for the Next 2 Weeks

All McDonald's customers get free coffee during breakfast hours over the next two weeks, starting Tuesday, September 16.

From September 16 to 29, participating McDonald’s restaurants around the country are giving one free small McCafé coffee per customer during the location’s breakfast hours—generally from around 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

The move comes at a time when the world’s fast food giants are embroiled in a battle for consumers’ breakfast dollars, when on-the-go Americans are less likely to be eating cereal or anything else at home—and are more prone to swing by a chain restaurant for a quick fix of calories and caffeine. After Taco Bell launched a breakfast menu earlier this year (and also launched some funny ads poking fun of Ronald McDonald to generate attention), McDonald’s responded by giving away coffee for a 14-day period starting in late March.

The new coffee giveaway, roughly six months after the first one, is basically a repeat performance, a McDonald’s statement explained: “This event builds on McDonald’s first-ever Free Coffee Event launched in March, when the company gave away millions of cups of free coffee during the two-week period.”

With a two-week giveaway in the fall, a few weeks after the new school year started—when mornings for families and students still feel exceptionally hectic and harried—McDonald’s is likely seeking to position itself as a quick and convenient habit that’ll help you get your day started a little easier. The idea is to give out lots of free coffee now, with the goal being that 1) customers will buy breakfast when they’re picking up free coffee; and 2) customers will keep coming back for breakfast and coffee (and perhaps lunch and dinner, too) long after the freebie promotion is over.

It also must be noted that the promotion comes on the heels of McDonald’s suffering through a horrible month for sales in August, when global same-story sales were down 3.7%. Giveaways are always known to juice sales, and McDonald’s is hoping that this giveaway more than pays for itself in the form of boosting sales in the long run.

MONEY Shopping

What Has the World Come to When Dunkin’ Goes Dark and Guinness Goes Light?

Guinness Blonde
courtesy of Diageo

Guinness, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Dunkin' Donuts are trying to win over new customers by taking a sharp break from their core mission. They should be worried about alienating their core customers in the process.

Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s a major brand introducing a new product, service, or store model that’s more or less the opposite of what the company is best known for. Taco Bell, famous for cheap, indulgent, down-and-dirty Mexican food, is trying to woo foodies with an upscale “premium” taco restaurant. Starbucks, which became a phenomenon for its personalized, barista-made (and slow) approach to rich, dark caffeinated beverages, recently announced plans for a series of small express stores where the focus will be on speedy takeout rather than the laid-back café experience. JetBlue, born with the principle that all passengers should get the same high-quality service, introduced a VIP business class called “Mint” over the summer. Wal-Mart, the blue-collar favorite that has always focused first and foremost on cheap prices, has dramatically expanded into a realm normally considered the domain of elites and picky foodies: organic foods.

And now Dunkin’ Donuts, a stalwart purveyor of light, sweet, mainstream coffee, is introducing a dark roast blend, while also playing up to niche dieters by adding almond milk to the menu. Meanwhile, the rich, dark, iconic Irish stout Guinness is going in the other direction with a light new Blonde American Lager.

For some, Guinness’s move is tantamount to sacrilege—if not for selling out its Irish roots with a beer for the “American” audience (that’s made in the U.S. too), then for producing the lighter beer itself, which few have tasted but some have compared to Bud Light—in certain respects anyway.

Why are Guinness and these other brands risking the possibility of alienating their core customers? What’s behind this trend of straying in the opposite direction from what made these companies successful to begin with? Do these moves represent a smart expansion of the brand or an identity crisis? The answers largely depend on whether consumers deem the new products and services as brilliant and appealing or as puzzling, weird, and perhaps even desperate.

Dr. Edward Tauber, who coined the term “brand extension” in 1979, told AdWeek that the best brand extenders have three things in common: “The brand should be a logical fit with the parent brand; the parent should give the extension an edge in the new category; and the extension should have the potential to generate significant sales.”

Some might argue that the efforts mentioned above aren’t logical expansions for the parent company. They may even turn off some regular customers. But expanding a brand in the opposite direction—while remaining in the same product category—is a lot more logical than heading off in some random, nonsensical fashion. You may not be keen on Guinness’s brand being applied to a light beer for Americans, but at least pale lagers and dark stouts are both beer. When Heineken introduced a brand of shoes, AdWeek voters listed it among the worst brand extensions of 2013.

When Dunkin’ Donuts announced the addition of a dark roast, the reaction was more It’s about time than What in the world are they thinking? “We saw an unmet demand for a dark roast product that had a bold flavor but a smoothness that’s often associated with Dunkin’ Original Blend,” John Costello, Dunkin’ Brands’ president of global marketing and innovation, quite logically explained to the Wall Street Journal regarding DD’s new dark roast.

Today’s executives aren’t satisfied simply by reaching a large group of customers with a stable set of tried-but-true products and services. In our fast-moving, constantly changing marketplace, brands feel compelled to hunt, relentlessly and shark-like, for the business of every consumer, at every opportunity.

For decades, the majority of fast food chains were content to do the vast majority of their business during the lunch and dinner hours. Then someone realized that formula was writing off plenty of hours of the day in terms of sales potential. Hence, the increased marketing of fast food “snacks,” meant to be consumed in the odd “day parts” in between normal meal breaks, as well as late-night specials and a huge push for breakfast

Similarly, a few years back Starbucks realized that it was overlooking a huge market by sticking exclusively with darker roasts—40% of coffee drinkers prefer lighter, milder roasts—so the Blonde roast was introduced to fuel growth among folks who otherwise wouldn’t be Starbucks customers. Thanks partly to its ability to expand the customer base, Starbucks seems to be winning the coffee wars, with same-store sales growth that’s surpassed competitors like Dunkin’ Donuts.

Wal-Mart’s organic foods push is an indication that the world’s largest retailer had gotten tired of allowing Whole Foods to dominate the space. The expansion into healthier foods wouldn’t seem to be all that controversial—Wal-Mart promised shoppers that they’d save 25% or more compared to similar products—yet even this move is not without risk. During the mid-’00s and beyond, Walmart was criticized for betraying blue-collar shoppers by raising prices and getting rid of “rollback” specials in an attempt to keep pace with Target and other, more upscale competitors. What’s more, there’s a significant portion of consumers who aren’t fans of organic foods. According to a recent Gallup poll, 15% of Americans say they “actively try to avoid” organic foods. Why? Perhaps because they assume such foods cost more or don’t taste good. And it’s safe to assume folks who feel this way are far more likely to shop at Wal-Mart than at Whole Foods.

MONEY Fast Food

WATCH: Starbucks Goes Big and Small With Two New Store Plans

Starbucks says it will open upscale tasting rooms for its limited Starbucks Reserve line, plus smaller stores focused on speed and convenience.

TIME food and drink

Starbucks Plans New ‘Tasting Room’ and Express Stores

Megachain hopes to expand its pricier, small-batch coffee line

Starbucks is about to get fancier — and even more widespread.

The coffee giant announced plans Friday to open a Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room on its home turf in Seattle by December, a move it hopes will anchor a significant expansion of its business and “transform the future of coffee.”

“Everything we have created and learned about coffee has led us to this moment,” CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement.

The 15,000-square-foot facility — which will highlight what the company calls “coffee theater” — will be an “integrated coffee roasting, education and retail space” that will allow it to ramp up production capacity for its small-batch “Starbucks Reserve” coffee line. That, in turn, will boost its availability to 1,500 locations worldwide.

Starbucks plans to open at least 100 new stores to highlight those coffee options and also test out express stores that will offer fewer products in a bid to lower customer wait times.

So, fear not: Beverage innovation is here.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

In Defense of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Latte
Getty Images

A chemist defends the lack of pumpkin in fall's favorite drink

When the clock strikes September, your cup of coffee turns into a pumpkin.

A pumpkin spice latte, that is. There is a difference—an important one, when you consider the recent mini uproar surrounding the “revelation” that Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte (nationally available since yesterday) doesn’t contain actual pumpkin.

Anyone who’s sipped a PSL, as it’s known on social media, probably could have guessed this. The drink tastes nothing like the earthy squash that is actual pumpkin, and has none of the nutritional benefits, either. Pumpkin, in its whole-food state, is a nutritional bonanza. A cooked, mashed cup of it has 141% of your daily vitamin A and 12% of both your daily potassium and fiber.

Pumpkin spice flavoring, instead, has natural and artificial flavors. What are those, exactly, and why is there no pumpkin?

Kantha Shelke, a food scientist with a background in organic chemistry and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, gets questions like this all the time. “This conversation about chemicals in food requires a certain amount of responsibility, which I think some of these elitist writers and bloggers and speakers have somehow forgotten,” she says of the backlash against pumpkin spice flavoring. “I think it’s very irresponsible to be ignorant to such a level as to lead others astray and tell them to eat chemical-free food.” After all, she says, water and salt are chemicals.

So is the stuff in your PSL. There’s no pumpkin in it because it’s pumpkin spice, and not pumpkin, that’s the star. The coffee flavorings are designed to resemble cooked pumpkin spice: a blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. It’s supposed to taste like the spicy components of a homemade pumpkin pie, not actual pumpkin.

But DIY’ers, take heed: you can’t just dump a packet of pumpkin spice mix into a mug of espresso and expect it to pass for a PSL. It would be absolutely awful,” says Shelke. The spice mix you get in the grocery store is specifically formulated to be mixed with butter and eggs and baked. Achieving that flavor of a fresh pie, minus the butter and heat, is no easy task, because pumpkin spice mix contains at least 340 compounds, Shelke estimates. But luckily, all of those aren’t necessary for your taste buds to get the message. “The brain, which is largely responsible for how we identify whether a certain mixture of compounds is a flavor and where the flavor comes from, doesn’t need all the compounds that exist in nature,” Shelke says. Just as your brain doesn’t need vowels to understand a word, certain compounds can fill in the flavor blanks for your brain. Starbucks isn’t soaking your PSL in chemicals, she says—they’re using the minimum number of compounds they need to reach that signature flavor.

These flavor compounds are synthesized in a lab—a process that also occurs outside in nature, Shelke adds–and tested for safety. But the word synthetic in this country today has become vilified,” she says.There should not be such a fear of derivatives of molecules and chemicals that are part of nature.”

We need these chemicals, she says, because it’s not sustainable to harvest the enormous amounts of ginger, cinnamon, or cloves needed to match our appetite for pumpkin spice lattes. “I don’t believe there’s enough cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger if all of India or all of China decided today that they were going to have a pumpkin spice latte,” she says.

If ever there were a sinister side to pumpkin spice lattes, it would be the sugar. One pump of pumpkin sauce contains 8 grams of sugar, Starbucks says, so a grande pumpkin spice latte, with three pumps of syrup, has 24 grams of sugar just from the flavoring, and 49 grams total. (That may be a better reason to avoid the stuff than if you’re bothered by the “natural and artificial flavors.”)

Despite her PR passion for chemicals, Shelke doesn’t drink flavored coffee. But that’s because she’s a bit of a flavor snob; her sense of smell is so good that she can tell which flavors are missing. When I ask Shelke for her review of the pumpkin spice latte, she admits she’s never tried one. “I cannot get past the aroma,” she admits, which to her smells far too rich. “I’m very puritanical in my approach.”

But for the rest of us, including the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s 90,000 Twitter followers, it’s less the actual flavors we taste than the aura that envelops the beverage. “The pumpkin spice aroma combination has more to do with the anticipation and the festive mood it sets you in than the actual taste of the spice mix,” Shelke says. “That’s really all that these beverages are trying to do, to take you back there.” But the only way to get there, she argues, is through chemicals. The humble orange squash just isn’t up for the task.

MONEY wall street

Burger King Wants to Cut its Exposure to Hamburgers, Not Just Taxes

While all the focus is on the tax savings Burger King could enjoy through a Canadian inversion, the real benefit of buying Tim Hortons is boosting breakfast and coffee sales.

The initial media reaction is that Burger King is turning its back on America by reportedly seeking to buy the Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons. After all, it can move its headquarters to Ontario to pay less in taxes.

In reality, Burger King BURGER KING WORLDWIDE INC BKW -0.1011% may be more interested in turning its back on the hamburger.

The $11 billion burger chain is in talks to buy Tim Hortons TIM HORTONS INC THI -0.2284% , Canada’s biggest fast-food chain with a market value of around $10 billion. The deal would reportedly involve a so-called inversion, where Florida-based Burger King would for tax purposes be headquartered in Canada, where the top corporate tax rate is 15%, versus 35% in the U.S.

But as The New York Times pointed out, Burger King’s tax rate is actually closer to 27%, and this inversion really wouldn’t cut its taxes that much because the majority of its revenues are generated in the U.S. Even if it moved to Canada, BK would still be on the hook for U.S. taxes on sales made on American soil.

No, there’s something else driving this deal, and it could be that Burger King wants to abdicate its rule over burgers and switch kingdoms.

As Americans’ tastes have changed, burger sales, which have long dominated the fast-food landscape, have started to stall. Last year, for instance, revenues at Burger King restaurants in the U.S. that have been open for at least a year fell 0.9%, while U.S. same-store sales at McDonald’s slumped 0.2%. By comparison, Starbucks STARBUCKS CORP. SBUX -1.1264% reported an 8% rise in comparable store sales in fiscal 2013 while Dunkin’ Brands DUNKIN BRANDS GROUP DNKN -0.8032% , the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts, enjoyed a 3.4% rise in revenues.

This isn’t just a short-term problem. Analysts at Janney Montgomery Scott recently noted that while three of the five biggest fast-food chains in the U.S. are still hamburger joints (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King), by 2020 that number should drop to just one: McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, coffee chains Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are expected to move up the ranks. And McDonald’s is itself doubling down on coffee, pushing more java not just in its restaurants but also on supermarket shelves.

Noticing a common theme here?

In the fast food realm, there are three buzzy trends right now. There’s the rise of the higher-end “fast-casual” restaurants such as Chipotle Mexican GrillCHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL INC. CMG -0.6541% . There’s the explosion of cafe coffee shops, which according to the consulting firm Technomic was the fastest-growing part of the fast-food industry last year, with growth of 9%.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, recently noted that “the segment continues to be the high-growth industry leader with Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Hortons rapidly expanding.”

He added:

[The] coffee-café segment competition will heat up, and new national chain, regional chain and independent units will increase major market penetration. Smaller rural and suburban markets will be getting more attention. Fast-casual brands in the bakery-café segment like Panera Bread, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Corner Bakery will also create new options for consumers as more locations open. Quick-service brands like McDonald’s will provide lower-priced, drive-thru convenience that provide value-seekers with a strong level of quality that is also affordable.

And the third area of growth in fast food is breakfast. According to The NPD Group, while total “quick serve” restaurant traffic fell by 1% at lunch and dinner time in 2013, business at breakfast time rose 3%.

“Breakfast continues to be a bright spot for the restaurant industry as evidenced by the number of chains expanding their breakfast offerings and times,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst.

Now, while Burger King isn’t really positioned to go after the Chipotles of the world, the acquisition of Tim Hortons could quickly make it a bigger player in the coffee and breakfast markets, where it has languished far behind McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Tim Horton’s already controls 75% of the Canadian market for caffeinated beverages sold at fast-food restaurants, according to Morningstar, and more than half the foot traffic at the key morning rush hour.

Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy noted recently that same-store sales throughout the chain are expected to rise 3-4% over the next decade, which would be a marked improvement over the same-store declines that Burger King has been witnessing lately.

Even though Burger King is a bigger company by market capitalization, it generates less than half the $3 billion in annual revenues that Tim Hortons does. This means that by buying the Canadian chain, Burger King will be able to buy the type of same-store growth that it could not muster with hamburgers and fries.

So the next time you go to Burger King, don’t be surprised if they ask you “would like some coffee to go with that?”

SLIDESHOW: Burger King’s Worldwide Journey To Canada

 

 

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