Coffee consumption in the UK: from coffee plebs to connoisseurs

April 29, 2013
3 min read

2012 was the year in which the UK retail coffee market broke the £1 billion barrier for the first time, according to latest research by Mintel, illustrating just how recession-proof the industry has proved. In fact, it is thriving so much that since 2011, the London Coffee Festival has become an annual fixture in the April calendar, with key industry players and new kids on the block vying for attention and their own piece of this burgeoning market over a 4-day period.

However, compared to continental Europeans, the UK remain coffee novices, with our retail market worth only a third of the German market and a half of the French. In further contrast to the mainland, the coffee market remains dominated by instant coffee. For example, in 2011, instant coffee accounted for 72% of all UK retail coffee volume sales, in comparison to 4% for France. In a continent of coffee connoisseurs, the UK is barely scratching the surface when it comes to consuming the good stuff.

Yet, while the forces of coffee premiumisation arrived late to these shores, they are now driving the UK market at the expense of instant. This all started with the introduction of the first UK Starbucks store in 1998, which led to mainstream coffee shops proliferating the UK high street, and providing consumers with much tastier freshly ground Arabica bean coffee.

As the nation has become increasingly exposed to a better quality brew, going back to instant coffee has become for many (especially more impressionable younger drinkers yet to develop engrained habits) something of an impossibility. It is the equivalent of putting the Oyster Bay back in the cupboard and returning to our student habits of quaffing Bulgarian wine from our local corner-shop.

However, now the more educated UK consumer want even more gourmet options, hence the increasing rise of “artisan” coffee shops – especially in the major UK cities. Or of major coffee shop chains tinkering with “micro-lot” coffee or “reserve” beans from exotic coffee making countries. Meanwhile, consumers increasingly want to replicate at home the coffee shop experience of having great coffee produced at the push of a button. Hence the increasing popularity of single-serve coffee machines, which at around £100+ allow consumers to produce fresh coffee in an instant by slotting an expensive coffee pod/capsule of ground beans into the machine.

Again, the UK is well behind the continental curve in take-up of such machines, but I expect that to have changed considerably a few years from now.

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Jonny Forsyth
Jonny Forsyth

Jonny Forsyth is Associate Director, Mintel Food & Drink, monitoring and engaging with latest innovations and market developments in all alcohol and coffee categories.

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