Coffee and the British
The UK enjoys an unsullied reputation as tea connoisseurs extraordinaire. However, a quiet national secret is the unthinkable rising popularity of coffee in UK workplaces, homes, restaurants and yes, the most sacred ground of all – the English Pub!
However, a look back at the UK’s coffee tradition suggests that we should not be surprised by the popularity of coffee houses. Historian Brian Cowan says English coffeehouses were, “Places where people gathered to drink coffee, learn the news of the day, and perhaps to meet with other local residents and discuss matters of mutual concern.” The conversation was always lively and informative. The absence of alcohol kept conversations on message. Like today, coffeehouses became place where financial news was discussed and financial transactions and investments were completed.
The first English coffeehouses appeared on the scene in the 17th century when travellers brought the treasured bean to England’s shores. The coffeehouse industry continued to expand into the 18th century. Political positions, fashion statements, current events and gossip dominated the conversation. Everything that typified the Age of Enlightenment interested coffee house customers.
In the early days, coffeehouses served coffee, tea and chocolate. After WWII, coffee became more difficult to obtain and, with rising commodity prices, took a back seat to tea, which was easy to get and much less expensive.
Today, the typical coffee drinker in the UK enjoys coffee to wake-up and also as a post-dinner treat. Male coffee drinkers average about 13 cups per week. British females who enjoy the coffee bean consume about 11 cups per week.
The conversational coffeehouse is back and specialising in premium brews has only added to the popularity. The Brit, once inclined to instant coffee and drinks produced by home coffee machines, has warmed to Starbucks, Costa, and more. However, despite the rising demand that boomed in 2005, coffee consumption in the UK was still below 5 kg per year, compared to individuals in Scandinavian countries that consume over 10kg every year.
In 2011, instant coffee accounted for 72 percent of all coffee sales in the UK. These sales began to rise in 2000, two years after Starbucks opened its first UK coffeehouse. Coffeehouses experienced growth in the early 21st century but the recession hit the industry hard. Retail sales actually lowered in 2012, a victim of the recession, weak economy and rising commodity prices against a weakened currency.
While the consumption trend slowed, the number of coffeehouses continued to rise. In fact, in 2012, the retail coffeehouse sector passed the £1 billion barrier for the first time. This was a promising feat for the industry. Coffeehouses had found a niche and it was not instant coffee. Today, coffeehouse demand is making progress against instant coffee brews because of the coffeehouse experience and the unique, premium brews that have pulled customers into the shops.
2013 consumers rallied to support coffeehouses that featured premium brews, sociability and free Wi-fi access. A new coffee culture has arrived in the UK and it is a 24/7 industry.
The industry is relatively new to the UK, following in the footsteps of the USA. For example, retail sales volume is just 25 percent of consumption in France. UK consumption is about 33 percent of Germany consumption but this is progress. Instant coffee consumption is about 4 percent of France’s instant consumption.
The Evolution of the UK Coffeehouse
As UK coffee tastes became more sophisticated, coffeehouses found their mark. The goal had to be to distinguish their brews from instant brews and to return the once-popular vibrant social atmosphere to their shops.
The amazing popularity of “artisan” coffees shops began to catch hold in 2005 and has not lost momentum since. All major UK cities feature these coffeehouses and in many smaller towns, these shops have gained a foothold as centre for sociability.
Nestle coffee UK is the most popular coffee in the UK. Nestle enjoys a 38 percent share of the retail value market and 32 percent of the country’s retail volume. Much of Nestle’s dominance can be attributed to a 57 percent share of the country’s instant coffee marketplace.
Behind the scenes, Nestle enjoys a strong position in the profitable fresh ground coffee sector. The Nescafe Dolce Gusto brand had enjoyed a stellar marketing campaign to ensure its position of prominence in the market.
The popularity of coffee can be seen in the booming surge in attendance and interest in the annual London Coffee Festival, which blossomed fully in 2011.
A number of things are driving the popularity of the English coffee house in the 21st century, including the environment, the influence from American culture, and the reliance upon premium products that cannot be duplicated at home. When we Brits like something, our hosts always seem to find new ways to embellish the flavour and put our unique taste preferences to work.