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Starbucks vs. Dunkin' Donuts: Why faith-driven buyers are choosing Dunkin'

In the wake of the hubbub surrounding Starbucks' red seasonal container, Dunkin' Donuts has unveiled its holiday coffee cup for 2015. 

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The latest battle in the "War on Christmas?" Starbucks v. Dunkin' Donuts.

As the Great Christmas Coffee Cup Controversy of 2015 continues to brew, the two major coffee chains are finding themselves, unwittingly, at the center of a Christian consumer-generated social media frenzy.

It began earlier this week when Starbucks unveiled its new holiday cups featuring a simple red design devoid of holiday designs like snowflakes or reindeer, that some religious conservatives said amounted to a "War on Christmas." The move was met with a flurry of social media outrage by some conservative Christians and a national boycott of Starbucks.

Now, Christian consumers looking for a coffee fix are turning to Starbucks rival Dunkin' Donuts, whose new holiday cups feature a more prominent holiday theme: the word "Joy," in red script surrounded by green pine branches. The Boston-based coffee chain said the design was not released in response to Starbucks.

As the share of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped sharply in the last several years - from 78 percent in 2007 to 70 percent in 2014 - and a wave of political correctness has replaced red-cheeked Santas with more inclusive snowflake decorations, some religious conservatives perceive a symbol as seemingly small as a red coffee cup as part of a national movement to phase out Christian-themed decorations from the holiday season, akin to an attack on traditional values.

Those Christians who feel Christmas is being edged out of society, a small but vocal minority, are fighting back with their wallets.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested a Starbucks boycott Monday night, saying, “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

The hashtags #MerryChristmasStarbucks and #ChristmasBUYcott have gone viral, encouraging consumers of faith to punish Starbucks by downing Dunkin' coffee instead.

About 41 million Americans, or 17 percent of the adult population, are Christian consumers willing to vote with their wallets, according to the group Faith Driven Consumer. They spend about $2 trillion annually, and will spend roughly $30 billion this Christmas season.

The American Family Association, a nonprofit that promotes conservative Christian values, publishes an annual "Naughty or Nice list" that ranks retailers based on how frequently they use the word "Christmas," as The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week. "Nice" retailers include Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, and Lowe's. "Naughty" ones include Barnes & Noble, PetSmart, and Staples.

Faith Driven Consumer recently released its Faith Equality Index, which rates more than 330 major brands, including Starbucks (27 out of 100) and Dunkin' Donuts (42 out of 100) for Christian compatibility. It uses metrics such as "Use of the word 'Christmas' in seasonal advertising," "Respect for pro-life views on abortion, stem cell research, and euthanasia," "philanthropic support of biblically orthodox faith-driven organizations," and "wholesome images in marketing."

“For those Faith Driven Consumers and others dissatisfied with Starbucks’ new presentation of Christmas as ‘a blank canvas,’ the #ChristmasBUYcott offers a positive and viable path forward. To date, we have scored Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme on the Faith Equality Index," says FDC founder Chris Stone in a statement. "The latter two, while not perfect, offer more faith-compatible alternatives.”

Even as the coffee-fueled Christmas Wars heat up this holiday season, it turns out most Americans aren't engaging in battle.

When asked about how stores should greet their customers over the holidays, 42 percent of Americans prefer “Merry Christmas,” 12 percent prefer “Happy Holidays” and 46 percent say it doesn’t matter, according to a Dec. 2013 Pew Research Center survey.

“It’s much ado about nothing,” Mike Powell, the pastor at University Bible Church in Chubbuck, told the Idaho State Journal. “Having reindeer and stockings on a cup doesn’t represent the spirit of Christmas.”

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