UK goes coffee house crazy

Coffee bars have enjoyed an explosion in popularity in the UK over the past few years -Âand the various major chains have distinct customer profiles

The UK is becoming a nation of coffee drinkers, with coffee overtaking tea as the most popular drink outside the home.

The past five years have seen an explosion of speciality coffee houses opening on high streets all over the UK. While most of these have been ex ported from the US, where they have thrived since the early Eighties, others are home-grown retail chains that have grown mostly organically.

According to research carried out by consumer information company Claritas UK, more than 83,000 people go to one or more of the leading coffee houses: Starbucks, Coffee Republic, Aroma, Häagen Dazs or Costa Coffee.

The two largest chains are Starbucks and Costa Coffee, which both have more than 150 outlets in the UK. Starbucks was launched in Seattle in 1971 and had over 1,400 outlets worldwide before it burst onto the UK market in 1998 by acquiring the Seattle Coffee Company. Costa Coffee is a home-grown brand, launched in London in 1971 to sell coffee wholesale. Eleven years later, it opened its first retail stores (still London-based) before selling to Whitbread, allowing it to implement rapid UK expansion plans.

Respondents to the Claritas national shoppers’ survey were asked to describe how often they visited each of these coffee houses, ranging from every day to once a week or less. The results show that Aroma customers are over one-and-a-half times more likely than average to visit the store every day. So while Aroma cannot claim a majority share of the market, it can boast an incredibly loyal – and presumably satisfied – customer base. Most coffee house visitors go to one of these outlets less than once a week, and overall, only eight per cent of respondents make daily visits.

So who are the customers of this new breed of coffee shop – and how do they differ between the brands? Of course, we all know you need a degree in Italian just to decipher the bewildering array of beverages on offer. But the data gives a distinct picture of the typical coffee connoisseur at these stores. Overall, they tend be young, single and high earners. They are likely to be professionals, senior or middle managers with company cars, credit cards and one or two children. Students are also an important part of this market, but there are some distinct differences between the typical customer at each of the stores.

Coffee Republic and Häagen Dazs have the youngest customer base, with 18 to 24-year-olds over two-and-a-half times more likely than average to choose these particular stores. Aroma and Coffee Republic have the highest proportion of 35 to 44-year-olds. Perhaps not surprisingly, the grey market is significantly under-represented – particularly at Coffee Republic, which has the lowest proportion of customers aged 55 years and over.

When it comes to income, the wealthiest coffee drinkers can be found in Starbucks: it has the highest incidence of customers earning more than £35,000. Häagen Dazs has the least wealthy customer base, reflecting its young age profile.

Professionals or senior managers are most likely to visit Starbucks or Costa Coffee. In contrast, though, students prefer Coffee Republic or Häagen Dazs. Manual workers, housewives and retired people are all under-represented, according to the Claritas findings.

Interestingly, comparing the profile of customers who visit the new branded coffee houses to those who frequent traditional establishments produces a completely different picture. Traditional coffee houses attract a much older, less affluent clientele, with an above-average incidence of preference by retired people.

There are also interesting trends to do with when customers prefer to buy their coffee. Coffee Republic has the highest incidence of customers visiting before work, while Costa Coffee is favoured as a mid-morning venue. Lunchtime is a key period for all outlets and the data does not indicate a distinct preference for any single store, but Häagen Dazs and Coffee Republic are top choices when it comes to chilling out after work.

Häagen Dazs is also the preferred venue for families at weekends because parents can relax with a coffee while the children tuck into ice cream. Overall, weekends are the most popular time to frequent coffee houses, with the majority of people popping in for a quick coffee and a snack while out shopping.

The fact that Starbucks now has sites in Sainsbury’s stores and Waterstones bookshops, while Costa Coffee can be found on Abbey National premises, shows that the new coffee houses have been recognised by leading UK companies as adding value to the experience of visiting them.

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