Coffee: A hot topic

30 March 2022, 07:08 AM
  • We all experienced the sea change in the coffee industry brought about by the pandemic, but what’s the shape of the sector now? We speak to the experts to find out
Coffee: A hot topic

Whether you’re a fan of a cup of Colombian made in a stovetop moka, a mellow roast from a cafetiere, or are part of the coffee machine clan, there are some elements of coffee-drinking that are universal. A major player is sustainability; a topic at the forefront of public consciousness for a couple of years now, with the food industry experiencing immense pressure to evolve to shore up a better future for the planet and its people.

Coffee has long been recognised as a standout Fairtrade product, but a recent Opinium survey commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation found that while surprisingly few UK consumers recognise the connection between climate resilience and decent incomes for farmers, the British public is passionate about addressing inequality caused by climate change and exploitative trade.

According to the data, over 60% of the British public are unaware of the threats that climate change poses to UK suppliers of coffee – meaning that the opportunity is ripe for brands and retailers to champion sustainability when it comes to coffee.

CIA Landlords research has found that production in Brazil alone is expected to reduce by 76% in the years to come as a result of climate change, which is drying out the air and negatively affecting the moist, tropical climates that coffee plants are best suited to. Contrastingly, and in good news for Brazilian bean fans, Italy’s rising temperature is leading farmers to believe that they might be able to produce the variety themselves due to the rising temperature of their country.

A sustainable cup
With shoppers across the UK becoming increasingly conscious about where and on what they spend their money, independent retailers must be smart about the coffee products they sell and how they promote them – and feeding into the necessary move towards conscious consumerism.

According to James Haggerty, founder of ethical coffee start-up Presto, sustainable credentials are “vitally important” to Britain’s coffee industry, with brands and retailers needing to be more aware than ever of the grass roots of the product they’re selling to satisfy consumer interest. “All coffee drinkers will have noticed a price hike in their cup of coffee and will hopefully know this is down to reduced consistency of supply via climate change. Consumers are also demanding recyclable and compostable packaging options as they know brands can do more to make alternative packaging that doesn’t end up in landfill.”

So much more than a simple box-ticking exercise, sustainable credentials have become a “hygiene factor, rather than a novelty” for consumers, says James, whose business has gone out of its way to do the right thing from the start. “Presto is now B-Corp Certified,” he begins. “We spent over a year analysing, improving and questioning every area of our business. We’re also 1% For The Planet members, and on top of that, donate to charities such as All of our packaging is 100% kerbside recyclable and we are moving our entire range to being Rainforest Alliance Certified. But we realise even all this isn’t enough and are planning on becoming a Certified Net Zero business and working more directly with coffee farmers to help tackle specific sustainability issues.”

Lorraine Bridden, managing director of Owens Coffee, a Devon-based roaster, says that while sustainability has been at the heart of her business since it started roasting in 2010, at first the spotlight in the South West was on its local provenance. “This has changed,” she says, “so too has the reach of our coffee. During the pandemic, people have become more aware than ever of the types of foods they associate with good health, the environment and sustainability – this is reflected in the demand we’ve seen for a sustainable offer in the coffee industry.

“Consumers want reassurance. They want to buy from companies that share their values. Waste and the environment, working conditions and social ethics, fair prices – these issues matter to people, and they are making sustainable choices with their money.” From Lorraine’s experience, shoppers are putting their money where their mouth is. “Customers ask us where our coffee comes from and about our eco-credentials. We’ve seen a general rise in demand for single origin organic coffees across our own range; typically, single origins give coffee drinkers additional buying confidence because they know the beans come from farms with close relationships to the roastery – we can tell them, ‘here is the farm and its farmers, they are paid a fair price for their beans, given the tools and education to scale and improve and experience good working conditions’.”

For James, consumer education plays a key role in the healthy future of the sector. “We all have a role to play,” he says. “50% of the CO2 (or equivalent) comes from the brewing and consumption of coffee, heating the kettle, adding milk and sugar etc. Swapping to plant-based milks and only heating the water required can have a sizeable impact on energy consumption.”

The role of coffee shops
In amongst the noise about sustainability is current data showing that the coffee shop market is booming, with 25,000 coffee shops in the UK (Allegra Wold Coffee Portal) and British consumers drinking around 98 million cups a day (British Coffee Association). According to Project Café UK 2022, a report on the British branded coffee shop market from World Coffee Portal, bean counters have reason to celebrate. The research showed that the segment has grown 43% over the past 12 months, ultimately regaining 87% of its pre-pandemic market value and achieving an unexpectedly high sales rebound of £1.3bn. Jeffrey Young, Allegra Group founder and CEO, said of the news, “I am heartened to see the UK coffee shop market proving so resilient in terms of incredibly difficult trading. Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen coffee venues playing a vital role in the lives of British consumers and communities across the country, which should provide much optimism for the next decade of trading.”

The key to running a successful coffee shop is all in the way you make the customer feel, says Scott Russell of Paddy & Scott’s. “Consumers know an awful lot about coffee but how you treat the customer, interact and make them feel is still our most popular flavour and is the key to always keeping the customer happy.”

Positive customer experience played a vital role in the survival and success of independent food and drink outlets throughout the UK, and coffee shops still have an important part to play in a community. “Your neighbourhood coffee shop has always been the bedrock of happy communities, but what’s changed is how people work and how much time they spend in their coffee shop,” he continues. “It’s become a meeting place for business, study and play. Our challenge is to make our stores their first choice, not gauge our success on average transactional volumes or minimising dwell time.

Pleasurable locations and a high quality offering also go hand in hand at Two Magpies Bakery – a Suffolk-based run of independent coffee shop cum bakeries run by Rebecca Bishop. “We have expanded rapidly as a business in the last five years, taking on sites with more covers that offer more of an eat-in and brunch experience,” she begins. “Our customers like the fact that we are independent and we are well supported in all our locations by them.” The premium price of the coffee Two Magpies sells brings with it an expectation to impress, says Rebecca. “Our customers want to see quality in the coffee we use (Allpress) and skill in the way the coffee is made. They expect a really well made coffee as they are paying a premium price – and they want to see good non-dairy options to serve with their coffee.”

For a final flourish, Rebecca suggests taking the time to get the milk right before worrying about latte art. “A perfectly steamed, velvety aerated milk is much more enjoyable and tasty with just a dot on the top. Focus on the basics first.” For Scott, ending the customer’s experience on a high is the cherry on the cake: “as you pour, show your customer the artwork you’re creating, smile and serve with pride and a big high five!”

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