In a promotional photo provided by the airline, WestJet attendants show off the new McCafe-branded coffee cups that will be used on the carrier's flights. (Photo: WestJet)
If you’ve ever had a hankering for a McDonald’s coffee at 35,000 feet, you’ll soon be in luck when you fly on Canadian carrier WestJet.
McDonald’s beat out competing bids from Starbucks and Canadian brand Tim Horton’s for an exclusive contract to provide its coffee on WestJet’s 650 daily flights, The Canadian Press reports. WestJet will become the world’s first airline to exclusively serve McDonald’s "McCafé" coffee on its flights.
The first cups served under the deal will come Monday on a flight from Toronto to Calgary. WestJet expects to expand the offering to all of its Boeing 737 and Boeing 767 aircraft by Dec. 1. WestJet also plans to serve the McDonald’s brew on flights operated by its Encore regional affiliate, though the company did reveal a precise timeline for that.
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The in-flight coffee will be a special McCafé brew designed for the different perception of taste at high-altitudes. It will be served in cups that feature “a special McCafé and WestJet design.”
"We serve 30,000 cups a day and so, clearly, good visibility for the McCafé brand," WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky says to The Canadian Press. "How it helps us is we're going to be serving a better cup of coffee so it improves the guest experience and just ups the game in the coffee wars in the Canadian skies."
The CBC writes “the move is the latest front in an all-out war in the coffee industry to win Canadians loyalty in their coffee buying. Tim Hortons was once untouchable in the space, but McDonald's has made inroads with its free coffee promotions.”
Air Canada, Canada’s biggest airline, has an exclusive contract with Second Cup while No. 3 Porter Airlines uses Starbucks, according to the CBC. WestJet is Canada's second-biggest carrier.
More broadly, Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper writes McDonald’s Canada “is rushing to catch up to Tim Hortons, which overtook McDonald’s as the country’s top fast-food player more than a decade ago.”
“This is a strategic brand play,” Robert Carter, executive director of food-service at market research firm NPD Group Canada, adds to the Financial Post of Toronto. “The volumes of coffee being consumed are small on flights, so this is not going to move the needle for McDonald’s on volume or revenue. But it is going to expand coffee branding for McDonald’s and get it in front of those passengers.”
As for the nuts and bolts of the deal, The Canadian Press writes “McDonald's was selected based on price and other factors including previous partnering with WestJet in children's charities.”
The news agency adds that when asked if the airline might consider serving other McDonald's products like Chicken McNuggets, CEO Saretsky responded: "Possibly. We really want to make sure we get the coffee right first."
WestJet in't the first airline to partner with McDonald's. In the early 1990s, United and McDonald's partnered to serve kids' meals on certain flights. Some of the toys provided from that partnership -- including a Ronald McDonald Boeing 747 -- can still be found for sale on auction sites like eBay.
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