McDonald’s brews coffee-biz change

Joel Yashinksky brings big American breakfast chops to the table.

Like many McDonald’s disciples, SVP/CMO Joel Yashinsky likes to say he’s got “ketchup in the veins.” These days, following the brand’s largest campaign launch in history for McCafé, it might be more accurate to say “coffee.”
The brand has given away 60 million premium roasted cups to Canadians through six trial events in the past three years, an effort that drove coffee sales up 45% in 2010, with similar numbers projected for this year. Thanks in large part to coffee sales, as well as the new Biscuit Sandwiches (launched with a Super Bowl spot in January), breakfast is now the brand’s fastest growing daypart. It’s helped put the North York, ON.-based operation in the top five countries globally, in terms of sales growth and guest count growth, for two years running.
“We’re seeing some really strong results, and it’s not just all about breakfast, certainly, but the breakfast piece has been a critical part of our focus,” says Yashinsky, who joined McDonald’s as a marketing supervisor in South Carolina 13 years ago.
The 44-year-old Detroit native brought his strong background on the breakfast business when he joined the Canadian team in March 2010. It was a reunion of sorts, both with the territory where he spent childhood summers with relatives in Toronto, and with current McDonald’s Canada president and CEO John Betts, with whom Yashinsky worked closely to lead the charge on the brand’s now ubiquitous coffee offering in Michigan six years ago.
“Joel was a strong partner on these areas in the U.S. and there was no doubt in my mind that he was the leader we needed to connect with Canadians on these areas,” says Betts. “Our Premium Roast coffee has fuelled double-digit growth for breakfast and through brand building and customer awareness, that foundation has changed the trajectory of our business in Canada.”
“I think we had a coffee perception [among consumers] that was pretty strong about 10 to 15 years ago, and we let it slide,” adds Yashinsky. “We recognized as we did some research that there was a great opportunity to focus around coffee.”
Yashinsky stresses that consumer insights guide his strategy, not the new competitive barista set. “We don’t get hung up on watching what the competition is doing,” he says. “If you’re focused on what the consumers want, you’re going to make the right decision nine and a half times out of 10.”
Aside from the trial events, marketing support for the java drive has come in the form of major traditional TV and outdoor executions by AOR Cossette, as well as non-traditional buys and product placements by media AOR OMD on properties including Cover Me Canada and So You Think You Can Dance Canada, where the judges sip out of McCafé cups. There are also branded highlights segments “It happened on Hockey Night” and “PJ’s Shot of the Game” on Hockey Night In Canada and Also on the digital front, Yashinsky hired new digital AOR Tribal DDB to redesign, which launched this fall.
As for the rest of the day, Yashinsky’s test-and-learn approach to menu and marketing initiatives is most visible in the introduction of new salads, wraps, pies and McFlurrys in the summer, as well as another major product introduction, the Angus Third Pounder burger, in April.
Three “Food Quality” TV spots by Cossette brought home – literally – the idea that the eggs, beef and potatoes in McDonald’s products were the same ingredients that Canadians use to cook with in their own kitchens. The campaign is supported by a joint effort with the communications department to bring influential blogger moms on board to inspire a two-way conversation about healthy ingredients.
The idea of McDonald’s customers sipping espresso and nibbling a salad while surfing free wi-fi by the fireplace in a redesigned McCafé restaurant lobby might still seem surreal to some. For diehards, Yashinsky has countered the new image with the return of classic products such as the Shamrock Shake and the McRib, and maintaining a focus on the core. A “Love Value” brand campaign in January of this year by Cossette emphasized a nostalgic take on the iconic products.
“It’s a nice way to encapsulate the brand,” says Cossette VP/CD David Daga. “It was near the beginning of Joe’s tenure, he put his mark down and said ‘this is who we were, and this is how you love us, and this is where we’re going.’”
“If you look at the creative holistically, you get a pretty good gauge of the type of personality Joel has,” says Cossette VP/CD Matt Litzinger. “There’s some funny commercials that are very tongue-in-cheek – there’s talking fish or there’s rock music or there’s people celebrating like it’s an NFL game – but then there’s commercials that are more heartfelt. He’s someone who knows when it’s time to joke around and when it’s time to be a little bit more serious or sentimental.”
“There’s a lot out there to bring forward, but we’re also trying to be balanced and not over-commit the system to any new ideas,” says Yashinsky. “We’re working off of a three-year platform in terms of where we want to go with the business, so we’ll calibrate all of the categories and make sure there’s a balance over that time.”
To help bring it all to fruition, Yashinsky has made a few new additions to the consumer business insights and marketing teams, for a total of 35 staff, to handle key areas such as breakfast, espresso coffees and merchandising. As part of the reimaging effort, he plans to have 90% of the interior and exterior décor, menu boards and crew and manager uniforms converted by the end of next year.
“It’s a great challenge,” says Yashinsky. “We take the core brand attributes very seriously, who we are and who we’ve been, so the Big Mac can meet the McCafé, can meet fresh baked biscuits, can meet the Angus and French fries and oatmeal. We would never want to alienate one customer or the next. That’s the beauty of McDonald’s; we absolutely believe we have something for everyone.”

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