Coffee has long been seen as an easy way of making money by many retailers, but are we now afloat with the brown stuff?
“Soy flat white and a pain au chocolat please.”
“That’ll be £5 please and I’m afraid we’ve only got mini pain au chocolats, although you could have two for £7 with the coffee.” In case you’re wondering, this is an extract from a real conversation your correspondent had last week in a chichi west London cafe.
When the price was mentioned and an eyebrow raised, the atmosphere turned chilly, the inference being that this was a perfectly respectable price for what was on offer.
This is daylight robbery and may, in part, be the reason that something else is beginning to happen in London and elsewhere at the moment. ‘Artisan’ cafes are closing − I have seen two in the past couple of days (one of which won a ‘London Lifestyle Award’ in 2014). There are just too many and there are insufficient numbers of people prepared to pay the prices they are asking for brown granular suspensions.
This is pretty bad news for some retailers. Many have spent a lot of time and money installing cafes. And although the great majority of in-store cafes are somewhat cheaper than the raw concrete, untreated wood and metal environments beloved by the cappuccino classes, increasingly they are not far behind.
London is, of course, coffee central − there’s even the London Coffee Guide, an app for phones that “tracks down the top coffee in town for less than the cost of your morning cappuccino. What’s not to love?”
The answer is the price, and unless retailers are going to put in a Starbucks franchise, as is the case in New Look Oxford Street − or perhaps a Costa, the default option for others − then inflated prices may finally leave a bitter aftertaste.
The good news is that if some of the ‘indie’ coffee houses are feeling the breeze, then a mild revolution may be under way. It’s unlikely that prices will drop, but a paucity of takers for some of the more outlandish offers may put paid to the unfettered greed that characterises this form of commerce.
The winners will be the retailers who see that a couple of coffees and cakes for more than a tenner may not be the way forward. Cafes will continue to have their place in stores, but a mild reassessment about what is on offer may have to be considered.