Consumers love Starbucks’ holiday cup most

A new survey examines how consumers feel about coffee shops' increasingly important festive cups.

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By Chris Powell

Nearly two decades after its 1997 introduction by Starbucks, the annual “Holiday Cup” has become a holiday season mainstay among coffee drinkers, with other quick-service restaurant chains including McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Second Cup all following suit in recent years.

Field Agent Canada — which enlists consumers equipped with mobile devices to report on various trends — wanted to know which cup consumers thought was best.

Jeff Doucette, general manager for Field Agent Canada, says that holiday cups have gone from being a “nice to have” element to a key part of the major coffee chains’ holiday marketing efforts, generating both extensive press coverage and social media shares. “It’s some great advertising that everyone’s carrying around in their hands,” adds Doucette.

Starbucks upped the stakes this year by releasing 13 different holiday cups, all designed by customers from around the world – including two people from the Toronto area – and leading to a possible “collect-them-all” mentality among customers. The crowd-sourced designs come a year after the Seattle-based chain’s controversial decision to introduce a minimalist red cup, leading some to accuse it of “waging a war on Christmas.”

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Tim Hortons has also introduced a series of cups with designs including snowmen, nutcrackers, elves and reindeer, while Second Cup has introduced three designs, each bearing a single word: “Peace,” “Love” or “Joy.”

McDonald’s released only a single holiday cup design this year, which Doucette says is somewhat at odds with the emphasis it has been putting on its coffee in recent years.

“It seems like they missed the boat a little bit on a slight modification to their cup,” says Doucette. “It seems like a missed opportunity.”

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Field Agent Canada recently enlisted more than 3,500 Canadians to rank the designs of the major chains’ holiday cups, with Starbucks ranking first overall with 1,364 first-place votes, narrowly edging out Tim Hortons, which garnered 1,290 first-place votes. Second Cup earned 633 first-place votes, while McDonald’s garnered 265.

Customer feedback included: “I appreciate the detail of the Starbucks cups. Makes me want to go back and hope I get a different one each time”; “Holiday red is the best design. Starbucks is very traditional and incredibly well designed”; and “the Starbucks cup designs are very bright and festive.”

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People who voted for Tim Hortons’ cups say that the chain “nailed it,” and offered more of a Christmas feel, as opposed to a “generic holiday feel.”

Another “field agent” praised the sentiment of the Second Cup’s holiday cup, but penalized the chain for making its cups blue. “The words speak totally of the season, but the colour was totally out of season,” they said. “I would have ranked them first if the cups had been red.”

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