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.

MONEY The Economy

8 Ways the American Consumer May Have Already Peaked

disposable diapers
Statistics suggest that American consumers may have hit "peak diaper"—for babies anyway. Joseph Pollard—Getty Images

The U.S. economy relies on robust consumer spending. But it's starting to look like Americans have had enough of some products.

Have you heard of “Peak Car”? That’s the idea that there’s a point at which total car ownership and miles driven will start declining. Given the questions about whether or not millennials want cars, as well as data showing that Americans have been driving less for a wide variety of reasons, some analysts believe that we’ve already hit Peak Car in the U.S.

And cars may not be the only thing that’s peaked. Here’s a look at a several seemingly disparate areas where U.S. consumers may be topping out.

Peak Car
The case for this one is controversial. Auto sales have been on the rebound since the Great Recession, sometimes growing by more than one million sales from year to year. After a hot summer for sales, 2014 is on pace for perhaps 16.5 to 17 million new vehicle purchases in the U.S. Then again, after months of heavy promotions and discounting, some experts believe the market is bound to slump toward the end of 2014, and few think that the tally will match the all-time high of 17.4 million sales in 2000.

Globally, some analysts predict that car ownership and usage will peak sometime in the next decade, while the Economist has theorized that Peak Car “still seems quite a long way off” because demand for cars in developing countries is expected to be strong for decades, and also because self-driving features will become mainstream. That means driving will be safer and insurance will cost less, drawing more people onto the roads.

Peak Casino
For years, there’s been talk about reaching a saturation point for casinos, in which gambling expands so widely that too many casinos are chasing the business of the same pool of customers willing to roll the dice and pull the arms of slot machines. The effects of such a situation are on display in Atlantic City, N.J., where one-quarter of the casinos opened at the beginning of 2014 are now closed. Two more casinos in Mississippi closed this year, and analysts are questioning whether markets such as the Baltimore area—which now hosts two casinos, and which has been blamed as a contributor to the falloff in gambling in Atlantic City—are big enough to keep local gaming interests afloat.

New casinos are still planned for Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, yet based on the number of casino closings and data indicating that overall slot revenues in North America are on pace to be down nearly 30% this year, it looks like there are already too many casinos in the marketplace battling to survive. “In many jurisdictions, gaming supply has increased while demand for the product has not, resulting in a state of market disequilibrium,” a post at the asset-based lending site ABL Advisor explained. “There is no simpler way for me to make this point.”

Peak Golf
Between 1986 and 2005, more than 4,500 new golf courses were opened in the U.S., including as many as 400 in a single year. Over the next six years, however, there was a net reduction of 500 courses, with 155 courses closing in 2012. Golf participation and golf sales are likewise plummeting for a variety of reasons: Ppeople are too busy, the sport just might be too hard, too expensive, or too uncool. And projections call for roughly 150 course closings and no more than 20 course openings in the years ahead. In other words, golf most likely peaked in the U.S. in 2005.

Peak Fast Food
The American appetite for pizza appears to have reached an all-time high around 2012, when one survey found that 40% of consumers noshed on pizza at least once a week. The food and beverage consultant firm Technomic noted in early 2014 that pizza consumption has “decreased just slightly over the past two years, likely peaking post-recession due to pizza’s ability to satisfy cravings and meet needs for value.” Foot traffic at Pizza Hut and other quick-serve pizza chains has been on the decline. For that matter, Businessweek recently made the case that the U.S. may also be reaching “Peak Burger.” The growth of franchises for fast food giants such as Burger King and McDonald’s has slowed significantly in recent years, with net openings close to zero.

Data from a new report from the NPD Group indicates that visits to low-cost quick-service restaurants, where the average customer bill is about $5, has been flat over the past year, and for the most part, income inequality and stagnant wages among the middle classes are to blame. “Low-income consumers, who are heavier users of quick service restaurants, were most adversely affected by the Great Recession and have less discretionary income to spend on dining out,” the study explains.

Peak Soda
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group may have together just pledged to reduce calories by 20% in sugary beverages, but the effort appears unlikely to bring American soda consumption back to the heights of a decade or so ago. Per-capita consumption of soda fell 16% between 1998 and 2011, and in 2013, total volume sales of soda was measured at 8.9 billion cases, the lowest total since 1995. Part of the long-term decline has been attributed to Americans wanting to cut calories and have more nutritious diets, but diet soda sales have been tanking lately too.

Peak Fashion
In 1991, the average American purchased 40 garments of clothing annually, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal. Clothing consumption took off from there, reaching an average of 69 articles bought in 2005, which appears to have been the peak. In 2013, American consumers had gotten their clothing purchases down to an average of 63.7 garments per year.

Peak Diapers (for Babies)
The U.S. birth rate declined 8% during the recession-era years 2007 to 2010, and just kept on falling thereafter, reaching a record low (thus far) in 2013. Considering that U.S. births peaked in 2007, it shouldn’t be a surprise that diaper sales in the U.S. have retreated since then as well.

What’s especially interesting is that as baby diaper sales have declined, industry giants like Procter & Gamble have stepped up efforts to sell adult diapers and other incontinence products to make up for the decline at the other end of the market.

Peak Median Income
Lots of these peaks are just challenges for specific industries. But here’s one that might worry any consumer-based business: People can’t spend more if they aren’t earning more.

In 1999, median household income in the U.S. was $56,895 in today’s dollars (after adjusting for inflation), according to census data cited by New York magazine. That was the highest it’s ever been. Lately, the middle-of-the-road household income in America has been $51,939. Given increased automation of the workforce and the rise of income inequality across the board, it may very well be that the median household will never be able to party like it’s 1999.

TIME Food & Drink

Coke and Pepsi Pledge to Cut Calories

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple aim to lower calorie consumption by 20% over the next 10 years

The country’s three largest soda companies promised Tuesday to reduce the calories in sugary drinks by 20% over the next decade, an unprecedented effort by the beverage industry to fight obesity in the U.S.—and a tacit recognition of consumers’ increasing aversion for high-calorie soft drinks.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple will expand the presence of low- and zero-calorie drinks and sell drinks in smaller portions, as well as provide calorie counts and promote calorie awareness where their beverages are sold, the American Beverage Association said in a statement.

The commitment was announced at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

“This is huge,” former President Bill Clinton told the New York Times. “I’ve heard it could mean a couple of pounds of weight lost each year in some cases.”

Consumers over the next 10 years will see the beverage giants’ new marketing strategy and product mix everywhere from company-owned vending machines and coolers in convenience stores, to fountain soda dispensers in fast-food restaurants and movie theaters, to grocery store sales and end-of-aisle promotions.

“This initiative will help transform the beverage landscape in America,” said Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association in a statement. “It takes our efforts to provide consumers with more choices, smaller portions and fewer calories to an ambitious new level.”

Read more from the American Beverage Association here.

MONEY Food & Drink

Nostalgia SURGE! Cult Favorite Foods & Drinks Back from the Dead

Twinkies Chocodile
Hostess

Fueled by nostalgia—and often, outcries on social media—the snacks, sodas, and beers you haven't been able to buy for years are making big comebacks.

There’s no mystery as to why malls play old Christmas songs, why retro products and brands pop up regularly in the marketplace, and why advertisers are constantly trying to evoke memories of our youth. But if anyone had any doubts, the results of a study published over the summer by the Journal of Consumer Research show that we’re more likely to spend money when we’re in a nostalgic mood.

Consumers are also, we know, more prone to buying stuff when it hasn’t been available in quite some time, and when we get the idea it may disappear again because it’s a limited-time offer. The periodic resurfacing of the McDonald’s McRib is a great example of how this strategy can work over and over to successfully drum up sales—for a product that, remember, was discontinued from the regular menu because not enough people liked it.

These varied forces have combined to fuel a surge in sales for products ranging from cheap old-school beer (featuring retro bottles, cans, and logos) to re-releases of old-school sneakers, Nike Air Jordans in particular. And these forces are also fueling a surge in discontinued food and drink products being brought back from the dead, including, well, SURGE.

The highly caffeinated citrus soda brand was brought back by Coca-Cola this week due to popular demand. The masses spoke in the form of a Facebook page with more than 140,000 Likes that demanded its return to the marketplace. And then they took action by buying up the first batch in its entirety within hours of it going on sale at Amazon.com.

Here are a few other food and drink products that disappeared for a while, only to resurface to the rejoicing of more than a few cult fans.

Hostess Chocodiles
At one point, sellers on eBay were asking as much as $90 a box for these chocolate-covered Twinkie treats, and buyers paid $17 for a single Chocodile. That was back during the dark days, when Chocodiles weren’t available in the vast majority of the country. In July Hostess announced it was bringing the Chocodile back nationally, by way of some hyperbolic statements from the company’s CEO. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” said William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”

BK Chicken Fries
Over the summer, around the same time Burger King was dramatically scaling back availability of Satisfries, its low-calorie French fry, the fast food giant brought back decidedly less healthy Chicken Fries to the menu for a limited time. The breaded-and-fried chicken strips were on the menu from 2005 until they were discontinued in 2012. But after online petitions and Tumblr pages pleaded for their return, BK relented. “On peak days we’ve seen one tweet every forty seconds about Chicken Fries, many of them directly petitioning, begging, for us to bring them back,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer North America, said in a statement. “When you have guests who are this passionate about a product, you have to give them what they want.”

Ballantine IPA
The hipster cult status of PBR has caused the Pabst Brewing Company to take a hard look at the beer brands it owns and see if should start brewing any of its discontinued old-school beers—which, perhaps, might also gain a following with hipsters. That’s essentially why Pabst relaunched Schlitz in 2008, and then reintroduced Schlitz vintage “Tall Boy” can a few years later. And it’s why the company is bringing back Ballantine IPA, the 136-year-old brew produced for decades in Newark, N.J., credited as America’s first IPA. It helps that the craft beer revolution has made hoppy IPAs extremely popular.

General Mills Monster Cereals
For most of the year, shoppers can’t find Boo Berry, Count Chocula, and Franken Berry in the cereal aisles of any supermarkets. But then sometime in late summer, their dormancy period ends like that of a pumpkin spice latte, and they’re suddenly available again just in time for the ramp-up to Halloween. This year, the cereals feature new designs from DC Comics artists, being sold side by side next to cereal boxes with retro characters and logos from the 1970s and ’80s. Count Chocula and Franken Berry are also being sold in select stores in Canada this season, which is unusual. “No more trips across the U.S. border to stock up!,” a General Mills post promised.

Last year, General Mills made monster cereal fans extra happy by bringing back two rare products, Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy, which hadn’t been sold in more than two decades. Alas, it looks like the two cult favorites are not returning to stores this season, prompting fans to voice their disappointment with comments on the company blog.

Something tells us we’ll be seeing both Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy again in the future. In today’s nostalgia-ridden world, no brands really die, not even when they feature monster characters that are undead.

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 Fast Food

McBrunch? McDonald’s Files Trademark Application

Are McMimosas and McScrewdrivers coming soon? The fast-food chain may one day offer a leisurely meal.

MONEY Fast Food

Two New Ways McDonald’s Is Trying to Win Over Millennials

Build the Burgers of Your Dreams
McDonald's is testing a program in which customers can personalize burger orders using a tablet. courtesy of McDonald's

Marketers know that millennials love technology, personalization, and brunch. What might McDonald's do with this information?

McDonald’s has a millennial problem. Globally, same-story sales fell 3.7% in August, the largest monthly dip in a decade. While McDonald’s struggles are widespread, the fast food giant is having a particularly difficult time wooing millennials, the all-important offspring of Baby Boomers who will soon be replacing that generation as the largest consumer demographic. Fortune recently cited data indicating that since 2011, the number of U.S. consumers ages 19 to 21 that ate at McDonald’s at least once a month was down 13%. In a study about millennials’ favorite fast food brands published earlier this year, McDonald’s was ranked fifth, after Taco Bell, Subway, Panera, and Chipotle.

What millennials will and will not buy has been the subject of much market research, and the consensus holds that Gen Y prefers fast casual options like Panera Bread and Chipotle over McDonald’s basically because orders are always easily customizable, and the food is deemed to be healthier, fresher, and higher quality. Millennials aren’t content with cookie-cutter anything; they like being able to personalize everything from burritos to greeting cards so that what they get feels special rather than generic. Millennials have also shown a willingness to spend a little extra to get exactly what they want, especially when it comes to restaurants and food in general.

Add in the undeniable fact that the generation that came of age with the iPhone demands that companies use technology to make their lives easier and more comfortable, and it’s not hard to see how McDonald’s came up with a new “Build Your Burger” program now being tested in southern California. Last week, the concept expanded to a couple of San Diego-area McDonald’s. As the San Diego Union-Tribune explained, customers place orders using a tablet (technology!), and they personalize exactly what they want, including a choice of buns (artisan or brioche) and toppings (spicy mayo, classic ketchup, cheeses, guacamole, jalapenos, bacon, etc.). The customer then retreats to a table, and when the made-to-order meal is ready, a McDonald’s worker delivers it on a shiny metal basket rather than a scuzzy old plastic tray.

The food and the overall experience are meant to come off as fresher, personalized, high-tech, and higher-end. (The price is higher-end too: $5.49 per burger, plus 80¢ extra if you want bacon. In some test markets, prices are even higher, starting at $5.79. Add fries and a drink and you’re close to $10.) It’s easy to see how the concept would appeal to many diners, but especially to millennials, given what we know of their preferences.

That’s not the only way McDonald’s is trying to get millennials more on board with the Golden Arches. Millennials are renowned for being obsessed with brunch, and wouldn’t you know it? Word spread this week that back in July, McDonald’s quietly trademarked the term “McBrunch.” BurgerBusiness.com, the blog that broke the McBrunch news, speculated that a McDonald’s brunch could feature many menu items that are already available in different parts of the world, including the Tsukimi Burger from Japan (egg and burger patties topped with bacon and creamy tomato sauce) and the McMorning that’s sold in Croatia (pork, bacon, potatoes, and cheese on a torpedo roll). Let the attempts to cure your hangover begin!

“Their declining sales show they have to do something,” BurgerBusiness editor Scott Hume told USA Today, regarding McDonald’s possible foray into brunch. To clarify, McDonald’s has not yet launched a brunch (or McBrunch) menu option, and the Build Your Burger program remains only a test in limited markets. If either or both of these concepts resonate with millennials, though, they’ll surely be hitting a McDonald’s near you.

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Sees Biggest Sales Drop in a Decade

CHINA-HEALTH-FLU-FOOD-SAFETY
A leaflet on a table in McDonald's advertises discount on chicken McNuggets at a branch in Shanghai on April 9, 2013. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

Global sales tumbled in Asia following a meat supplier scandal in China

McDonald’s posted its worst monthly sales decline in more than a decade in August, according to new figures the company released Tuesday, as same-store sales dropped precipitously in Asia and ebbed across the rest of the world.

Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa led the downturn, with a 14.5% drop in sales in August. The overall sales drop of 3.7% was the worst since February of 2003, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sales fell fastest in China and Japan, after news broke of a supplier in Shanghai attempting to pass off expired meat to its customers, most prominently, McDonald’s.

Sales across Europe slipped by 0.7%. A rare bright spot of growth in the United Kingdom was offset by store closures in Russia due to official allegations of “sanitary violations,” which the company has appealed and critics have said might be political retaliation for western sanctions against Russia.

Rounding out the global slump was a 2.8% drop in U.S. sales, which the company attributed to an increasingly competitive marketplace.

“During August, McDonald’s global business faced several headwinds that impacted sales performance,” McDonald’s president and CEO Don Thompson said in a statement. “We are diligently working to effectively navigate the current market conditions to regain momentum.”

 

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 Fast Food

‘We’re a Movement Now': Fast Food Workers Strike in 150 Cities

Fast food workers are expected to strike in an estimated 150 cities on Thursday, pushing for a raise in hourly wages and the right to form a union

Fast food workers are expected to walk off the job in an estimated 150 cities on Thursday, with employees in many locations planning nonviolent civil disobedience.

Organizers say the strike—with potentially widespread arrests of workers—marks an intensification of a two-year campaign to raise hourly pay in the industry to $15 and to win workers’ right to form a union. On Thursday morning, organizers said dozens of workers had been arrested in Detroit and New York’s Times Square…

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

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