Starbucks projected to surpass McDonald’s

Starbucks predicted to eat the world. Maybe it’s because I spent the holidays binging on two seasons of The Tudors that I now find myself particularly mindful of our eternally human pursuit of empire. Or maybe it’s this Bloomberg headline from Tuesday: “Starbucks to Top McDonald’s as Restaurant King, Analyst Says.” (It’s impossible, it seems, to resist royal syntax when covering this epic market grab. See Financial Times’ headline from yesterday: “Starbucks tipped to take McDonald’s crown.”)

Within four to five years, the caffeine kingdom will expand to include another 16,000 locations

As Bloomberg reported, the bold proclamation was broadcast across our great land by analyst Mark Kalinowsky of Asia-based financial services group, Nomura, whose report to clients on Tuesday named Starbucks his top restaurant stock for 2017.

Starbucks currently sits at a modest 146 on the Fortune 500, which lists the chain as a “global coffee and food retailer” worth $79 billion and with more than 21,000 locations in 66 countries. But Kalinowsky predicts that within four to five years, the caffeine kingdom will expand to include another 16,000 locations (and eventually will reach 50,000). That would poise Starbucks to overtake McDonald’s, which boasted 36,615 fast-food fiefdoms at the end of September 2016.

As Fortune reported, one reason for the Seattle-born supernova’s rise may be its focus on beverages, which has shielded it from its more food-oriented competitors, like Dunkin’ Donuts. Also lining the Starbucks coffers is revenue from its budding “Reserve” brand of small-batch, higher-priced coffees—a brand predicted to one day bring in as much as $3 billion.

But I can’t help wondering why Kalinowsky labels Starbucks a “restaurant” rather than a “retailer”. I suspect this has something to do with the simple fact of chairs and food together in one place. Alas, these modern times seem no longer to demand that a brick-and-mortar act like a restaurant in order to be labeled a “restaurant.” Who cares about consistency, right?

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Kate Cox is The Counter's editor. She oversees partnerships and edits investigative, feature, and senior staff reporting. Prior to joining The Counter in 2015, Kate was a freelance reporter for radio and text, focused on health policy and the American age boom. She has written for The Guardian, The Nation, Huffington Post, and others. She holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where she produced and reported a three-part radio documentary on the nation's first emergency shelter for victims of elder abuse.