If you think there are a lot of Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks stores in Greater Boston, just wait. The competition between the two titans of the coffee industry is about to get a lot more caffeinated.
The rival companies, firmly entrenched in communities in and around Boston, and fighting out it cup by cup, are vowing to expand their stores and menu offerings, although they are cagey about where, when, and how.
It promises to crank up an already epic battle for the hearts, minds, and taste buds of local java drinkers in a clash between two international business giants famous for their coffee — but dissimilar in everything else.
Just ask the fans on either side, who can be passionate about their brand, and unimpressed by the other. Everything is seen as different: the taste of the coffee, the ambience of the stores, even the business cultures.
“They have very distinct images,” said Nancy F. Koehn, a Harvard Business School professor who has written extensively in books and articles about the leadership and success of Starbucks.
Starbucks “is rooted in the Italian coffee bar experience. Dunkin’s is more centered on a cup of joe.” And the companies don’t like each other much, either, she noted. Dunkin’ Donuts even sells a T-shirt on its website, “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.”
To get a sense of the competition, the Globe obtained the list of every Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks Coffee Co. store in the United States and their locations.
Dunkin’ Brands Group, the Canton-based parent of Dunkin’ Donuts, clearly has the edge in Massachusetts over Seattle-based Starbucks, at least in the number of stores — about 1,100 to 200 — across the state.
That may sound like a lot of shops, but the coffee market is not close to the saturation point, according to Koehn, “even in Massachusetts.”
For instance, Natick has a Starbucks sandwiched between two Dunkin’ shops on a short stretch of Route 9.
Newton has 11 and Framingham has 10 Dunkin’ Donuts, while Marlborough, Waltham, and Lexington have nine, eight, and seven, respectively.
Newton has six Starbucks while there are seven of the stores in neighboring Brookline, which holds the distinction of being the only Greater Boston community in which Dunkin’ Donuts is in the minority, with just five outlets.
Of communities statewide, Boston has the most Dunkin’s, with 131, and Starbucks, 55.
The competition means that the coffeehouse companies occasionally place stores within the proverbial shouting distance of each other.
The never-ending traffic along Route 9 in Natick apparently makes it a healthy market for both brands, based on the close proximity of the three shops.
What do customers on that stretch of Route 9 have to say?
“Dunkin’ Donuts, always,” said Robert Szabo, of Quincy, who works for Raytheon in Marlborough as a technician. He and a small group from work get a coffee every afternoon. He was also getting one during the ride home, a large French vanilla iced, with a turbo boost.
Starbucks? “It’s just not the same.”
Sandy Sciarpelletti of Holliston was parked at the same Dunkin’ Donuts with her 9-year-old daughter, Amber, stopping to get a coffee for herself and a treat for Amber.
But she prefers Starbucks. “At Starbucks, there’s never really a bad cup. It’s very consistent.” Sciarpelletti goes to Dunkin’, however, because it gives her daughter some independence to go in alone, while she can watch from the car.
At the Starbucks a short distance away, business consultant Manva Bhardwaj of Malden said he prefers Starbucks to Dunkin’.
“The coffee is strong and I like the ambience,” he said. “I travel and need a place to work and drink coffee.”
“I like Starbucks way better,” said Lauren Ahola, a registered dietitian from Jamaica Plain. “You know what you will get — it is always good.”
From a business strategy standpoint, the competition between the rival operations is as hot as their coffee.
Dunkin’ Donuts plans to grow aggressively, said John Costello, the company’s chief global marketing and innovations officer.
The Canton-based corporation, with nearly $9 billion in annual sales, plans to open between 330 and 360 stores across the world next year, he said, adding to its 10,000-plus stores in 32 countries. That means it sells 30 cups of coffee every second.
Think that’s a lot? The company believes it can double its US restaurants to 15,000.
“I think the key to our success is great coffee and food at a great value, and service in a fast, friendly, convenient environment,” said Costello.
A key weapon is its franchise holders, who own the vast bulk of the chain’s stores. On average, a Dunkin’ franchisee owns just under six shops. As local entrepreneurs, they understand their markets. “Our franchise system is a real strength,” Costello said.
Starbucks is hardly standing pat on a formula that since its start in 1971 has turned it into a worldwide presence with sales last fiscal year topping $13 billion.
In Boston and a few other markets, the company is pushing “Clover brewing,” which brews individual cups of coffee as customers wait. It’s designed to bring out more intense flavors, said Alisa Martinez, a senior manager for Starbucks.
“It’s coffee in high definition,” she said. The system, which costs more per cup, is only available in some urban and university markets.
Dunkin’ and Starbucks have both benefited from the growing coffee market, especially for upscale drinks worldwide, that did not exist a few decades ago, said Harvard’s Koehn. People’s tastes have expanded from bland supermarket and diner offerings to lattes and cappuccinos, and special roasts of beans from exotic locales.
“Since when were there 9,000 permutations on a cup of coffee?” said the business school professor, referring to the seemingly infinite endless number of choices on the Starbucks menu.
That has helped coffee brewers and roasters around the world, she said. Both companies have done their share to create new customers.
“It’s very segmented, very customized, and it’s added a big margin for coffee makers and retailers” around the globe, Koehn said, as people have grown accustomed to paying more for specialized coffees.
As the two big rivals have grown, independent shops have thrived on the increase in coffee’s popularity.
Jamie Vanschyndel is the founder of Barismo Roastery in Arlington, a five-year-old operation that sells coffee beans wholesale to independent shops, mostly in Cambridge, and works directly with growers in Central America. Unlike the giants, it’s hardly a billion-dollar operation — but it’s not run on a shoestring, either. Annual sales are “more than a million,” Vanschyndel said.
For him, it’s all about “freshly roasted, freshly ground, and freshly brewed.” When a local company brews his beans, they might have been roasted within the past week. Some people want them roasted the same day. The “big boys,” he said, roast their beans months and months earlier.
Koehn said the growth of the coffee business is also a reflection of people who are sleeping less and working more.
Coffee “helps us get a lot of work done,” she noted, adding how important caffeine has become in giving so many that extra boost to get through the day.
“The faster we move and the more hectic our lives get, the bigger role there is for coffee.”