Gal Tziperman Lotan writes in The Boston Globe that Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out its Iced Dunkin’ Dark Roast yesterday to undercut its biggest rivals. Meanwhile, java leader Starbucks is planning to upgrade its popular frappuccino iced coffee drink next month. And McDonald’s intends to launch new blended coffee iced drinks and smoothies this summer.

The new drinks show how competitive the coffee wars have gotten as chains that have increasingly tried to one-up one another attempt to take advantage of coffee drinkers’ growing affinity for having the beverage served over ice.

While iced coffee is nowhere near to surpassing hot coffee as Americans’ drink of choice, its market share is growing steadily. Thirty percent of coffee drinkers had at least one iced, frozen, or blended coffee drink in 2009, up from 27 percent in 2008, according to the National Coffee Association, a New York-based trade group. And iced coffee is particularly popular in the Northeast: 30 percent of all cold coffee drinks in the country were purchased in the region in 2008, the most recent data available, according to market research firm the NPD Group.

Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of WD Partners, a restaurant and retail design and development consultancy in Ohio, said the iced coffee segment is a good one for chains to target because consumer interest in iced java drinks has been skyrocketing, and the majority of its fans are women and teenage girls who are willing to spend more on indulgences.

Lombardi said Canton-based Dunkin’ Donuts’ addition of a bolder, stronger-flavored dark roast iced coffee could appeal to men and help the company stand out from inexpensive coffee chains and convenience stores, which he said tend to make weaker coffee. If Dunkin’ can corner the dark roast market, he said, it could draw customers away from more expensive chains.

Consumers have been asking Dunkin’ Donuts to make a stronger, bolder iced coffee brew for a few years, said Scott Hudler, vice president of brand marketing for Canton-based Dunkin’ Brands. Like other Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffees, the dark roast is double-brewed so the ice, cream, and sugar in the drink don’t mute the flavor. Consumers can choose among eight flavored syrups to add to the coffee, from coconut to chocolate.

“Coffee is like wine; people have different taste profiles that they like,’’ Hudler said.

Ric Rhinehart, executive director of Long Beach, Calif., industry group Specialty Coffee Association of America, said Dunkin’ Brands is following a broader trend of consumers who want their iced java drinks to taste more like coffee, not fruit, milk, or sugar.

“Consumer taste has evolved away from super-sweetened drinks to coffee-flavored beverages,’’ he said. “I think it’s a combination of the introducing of a younger demographic into coffee drinking and a broadening of offering of coffee beverages that are cold drinks.’’

Victor Carvalho, who co-owns a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise location in Quincy with his brother, Octavio, said his employees have gotten positive feedback about the brew. “There’s a segment of the population that likes the bolder taste,’’ he said.

Read more at: The Boston Globe