Brewing up a storm to beat the competition

Despite the well-publicised increase in UK consumers’ spending on coffee, coffee shops are by no means immune to the economic pressures affecting all catering and hospitality operators.  Staffing issues, increasing rent and rates, ailing consumer confidence and an uncertain economy affect coffee shop owners just as keenly as other food service operators.

Furthermore, the increased consumer appetite for coffee has inevitably led to increased competition, not only from other coffee shops but from a multitude of retail outlets adding coffee offer to their core product offering.  It has long been possible to grab a coffee from garages and service stations, supermarkets and grocery stores, but these days bike shops, fashion stores, post offices, libraries and even banks have coffee machines or even full-blown coffee counters.

How then, can the independent coffee shop operator hope to succeed? According to Andrew Knight, founder of luxury coffee roasters, Andronicas, the answer lies, rather comfortingly, in quality.

“Coffee drinkers have become relative connoisseurs, and what used to be considered ‘speciality’ coffee, has become a standard expectation. Coffee shop owners feel they must offer an ever-increasing array of options to compete: cortados, lungos, wet, skinny, iced, prepared with almond milk, oat milk, goat’s milk and with an endless variety of flavours and syrups on offer.  To the untrained eye, the consumer’s taste in coffee appears to be diversifying at light speed.”

“Take a step back,” says Andrew, “don’t get sucked in. Try to identify what your customers actually want to drink, and offer them the absolute best version of it that you can possibly brew.”

There is no getting away from the fact that some people will want an espresso and others a latté, but there is a school of thought that says the major chains and the ultra-hipster joints are creating fads rather than meeting an existing demand. Always trying to offer a wider or weirder variety of flavours and milk options than the next coffee shop is going to be a never-ending struggle, and a very expensive one at that.

Focus instead on the quality of your product.  Ask your customers what they like, carry out a taste test perhaps, however you do it, find out exactly what floats their boats and make that your core offering. Refine your processes and improve your ingredients until you are offering your customers the absolute best version of their favourite drink.

So, that’s the coffee sorted. Now think about what your customers might want to have with their brew: a strong and well thought out food offering can set a coffee shop apart from the crowd and, with the margins on food often high, it can also be extremely profitable.

That said, don’t just sell whatever you can make the most margin from: give your food offering real thought, and make sure it goes especially well with the coffee you’re selling.  Don’t be weird for the sake of being weird, but do think about how you will stand out, and offer something different from the competition.

Let people try mushroom coffee, barley milk and caramelised onion syrup, and then watch as they return in their droves to a decent cup of well-made coffee and a slice of delicious cake.

Whatever trends your competitors are trying to ride, if you’re selling the great quality coffee your customers want to drink, and offering them the perfect accompaniment and great service, they’ll be more loyal, visit more often and spend more time and money with you.

Andrew Knight is the founder and CEO of luxury coffee roasters, Andronicas (

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