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The Costa wars: Battles for individuality from Southwold to Totnes

Apocalyptic stories in the papers today. “Anger spilled onto the streets of Southwold after a national coffee chain was allowed to open in the town centre,” according to the East Anglian Daily Times.

“The locals of Totnes have gone to war,” says the Guardian.

Can the Costa riots be far away? In both towns there are loud campaigns against plans to open branches of Costa Coffee.

One of the pleasures of Southwold is that it is not filled with the same shopfronts as everywhere else. It is a long time since I have been to Totnes, Devon, but I recall another town centre worth exploring.

At the same time I do use Costa branches, although it is relegated if there is a branch of Caffé Nero around. Why choose one of these over-priced national chains before a locally-owned cafe when I am an unfamiliar town?

I guess I have had too many experiences of finding the the only other option is stale filter coffee. Or, if there is an espresso machine, asking for a cappuccino and getting something like a latte with froth. So I go for the familiar brand.

Sometimes there are local places that beat the national chains. In Woodbridge my choice is Browsers Bookshop ahead of the Cafe Nero, a few doors away, or the Costa a bit further on.

Given the the way the planning laws and free market work, probably the only thing that will keep the chains away is the prospect that they won’t make sufficient profit.

The rapid growth in the coffee shop market is underlined by Costa which contributed nearly a third of the Whitbread group’s £1,788 million sales in the 2011-12 financial year. They opened 332 new shops, more than half of them in the UK in the year.

This year  they plan to open 350 new stores. Clearly there is a growing demand which can be met profitably despite the group having to refinance £441 million of debt in the last financial year.

Italian visitors to England are shocked at the price of a cup of coffee in England. Surely the way to keep the coffee chains out of high streets of towns like Southwold and Totnes is to have places that offer a similar experience at a lower price.

The way to keep out the chains of shops and restaurants must be to offer customers something better for their money.

 

 

 

 

 

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