I come from a country where coffee is taken very seriously, and foreign corporations are not part of the culture of our country.
No matter where one goes in Italy, even the most anonymous coffee shop in a small village is likely to serve good coffee. But, is that enough? When you drink coffee outside your home, are you only concerned with the quality of the product? I doubt it. What's important is the experience.
The first Starbucks store in Italy opened in September 2018. The 25,000-square-foot building is outfitted with Tuscan marble and stunning copper accents and is located in a trendy square near some of Milan's top tourist attractions. It features extras such as a 500 pound in-house coffee roaster, augmented reality configured walls, an aperitivo bar and a liquid nitrogen affogato station.
It's evident that Starbucks doesn't just sell coffee: it sells a status symbol, an office, something extra. It's as if the experience justifies the brand, which justifies the price, and so on.
Coffee culture in UK
Despite being relatively new to Brits, coffee culture has become increasingly important to their daily lives. It is estimated that there are approximately 25,000 coffee shop outlets in the UK in 2019. Operators include independent coffee shops, coffee chains, and non-specialists, i.e. non-traditional vendors such as pubs and restaurants that sell coffee.
According to Statista, in 2019, independents operated about 27% of the UK's coffee shops, while branded chains accounted for about 32%. Non-specialist operators were responsible for 41% of coffee outlets, which translates into 10,604 locations.
In the face of stiff corporate competition, what sets the independent coffee shop apart from the global chains?
Generally, consumers hold high regard for companies that are conscious of the environment - particularly in this sector. According to Mintel's research, 87% of coffee drinkers try to put their packaging into recycling bins, while 40% claim that they don’t mind being charged extra for hot drinks served in completely recyclable coffee cups.
Independent businesses can quickly introduce green initiatives and attract the type of coffee consumer who will appreciate them. They reduce their impact on the environment by using paper cups or reusable mugs, buying their coffee beans from sustainable sources, installing energy-efficient LED lights, and buying local produce, among other things.
Instead of aiming for mass appeal, independent coffee shops focus on doing what they love and doing it exceptionally well. There are no boring blends of coffee on their menu, since they have researched, tried, and tested everything themselves to ensure that their products and services are the very best. Their coffee is often traced back to the country of origin, where their rich flavours are created by their experienced and fairly paid farmers, roasters, and baristas.
When you buy coffee from an independent coffee shop, the impact is much greater than grabbing a cappuccino from Costa Coffee. When you buy locally, you support more than one business. A small independent business is more likely to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with other small local businesses. In doing so, it makes sure that money is distributed equally and in a positive way throughout the community.
I feel that people in Italy are very community minded and this combines with their passion for excellent coffee to support the numerous independent coffee shops in the battle against coffee chains. I’m excited to see this happening in the UK too.
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