Joanna Blythman (food writer, investigative journalist and broadcaster) doesn’t like Tesco much…
Coffee appears to be recession-proof. It falls into the marketing category of a “small affordable luxury”. In business terms, coffee shops are highly profitable. Even people who think they can’t afford free-range chicken can easily be persuaded to spend £2-3 of their hard-earned cash on a cup of coffee that would cost them pennies to make at home.
Well, pennies after they’d bought the coffee machine, anyway. Even the cheapest model is upwards of fifty nicker…
Why? Coffee shops have an almost effortless image of cool.
Do they? I suspect that’s not been the case since ‘Friends’ finished it’s run!
But how cool can a coffee shop be when it is part of a chain, a chain up to 49% owned by Tesco?
How cool are Adidas trainers? Apple computers? Oddly enough, being the product of a large business doesn’t seem to affect the coolness quotient one iota.
That’s right, the supermarket mammoth is investing heavily in a new chain of “artisan” coffee shops, the first opening in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, this month.
If you stumble over the word “artisan” when it appears in the same sentence as Tesco….
Well, I’m unlikely to, actually. Not for the reasons you might think, I have no prejudice against Tesco’s. I simply realise the term ‘artisan’ for what it is – a meaningless PR term.
… it may not surprise you to learn that Tesco is showing uncharacteristic reserve over its stake in the enterprise. In fact the chain, quaintly named Harris and Hoole (after coffee-loving characters in Samuel Pepys’s diary), won’t display any information to inform customers of Tesco’s involvement.
Who’s going to even bother to look anyway? I’m not in the habit of delving into Companies House records before I buy a coffee. I suspect I’m not unusual in that regard.
Why is Tesco being so bashful?
Must be a nefarious reason, eh, Joanna?
For starters, communities that already feel oversubscribed with Tesco Expresses and Metros most certainly won’t be chuffed to see Tesco taking yet another bite out of high-street commerce.
Well, maybe so, maybe no. Maybe they don’t really care that much. Obviously, you do.
And coffee chains in general are rapidly becoming a downtown planning menace to match the creeping supermarket threat.
Really? More so than empty vacant shops? Or dilapidated charity outlets? Or those ghastly ‘pile ‘em in & sell ‘em cheap’ shops that spring up like weeds on short leases only?
Personally, I’d rather see a Starbucks, even if I didn’t like coffee. At least their outlets are always clean.
First it was Starbucks popping up like the proverbial bad penny on every corner. Then it was an army of Costas. The coffee chain assault on our town centres is now so pronounced that both Bristol and Totnes have seen high-profile campaigns – ultimately unsuccessful – to stop Costa opening.
The fact that they were unsuccessful might be expected to tell you something about how much people really care, but I suspect you’ll just mutter about the power of corporations to crush the little guy…
Joanna relishes the news of Tesco’s poor sales figures this year, blaming it on a thing that must just be obvious to her and all her friends:
… the Tesco shopping experience is widely acknowledged to be drab and uninspiring …
It’s just a supermarket. No worse than any other the others.
Tesco is even considering axing its “Every little helps” slogan, which increasingly jars, and is susceptible to parody, as in “Every little hurts”.
Parody being what it is, is it even possible to pick a slogan that isn’t susceptible?
Of course, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Harris and Hoole will have the theoretical capacity to serve a “d*** fine cup of coffee” – the chain will be run by Andrew and Laura Tolley, the Australian siblings behind the aspiring London coffee shops Taylor Street – but this is not a likely scenario. Fine Arabica coffee, however knowledgeably and ethically sourced, has a habit of shedding its winning qualities when made into an amaretto milkshake by casual staff earning little more than the minimum wage.
Truly great coffee shops – think Tazza D’Oro in Rome or Caffè Pirona in Trieste….
Neither much use when you want a hot cup of java and you’re stuck in Bluewater or on Regent Street…
… are one-off indie operations, often family-run. They reflect all the quirks and preferences of the diverse group of people who run them. This authenticity is what gives the best independent coffee shops such timeless appeal, and makes them genuine assets to their area. Never confuse this venerable business model with faux chain coffee shops, stamped out with a corporate template.