Bewleys, Brains, in busy day for buying coffee companies

The coffee trade saw two big acquisitions in the space of eight hours yesterday. Following the acquisition of the Coffee#1 cafe chain by the Welsh brewer and pub chain S A Brain, the Irish roaster Bewley’s announced that it had acquired the Darlington’s coffee business of London.

Bewley’s is the influential roaster which has dominated the coffee scene in the Republic of Ireland for many years, and which also has operations in the US, in Boston and California.

Darlington’s has been operating since the early 1990s, and has a turnover in the region of £4.5 million. It has a strong business in restaurants of various kinds, significant pub companies such as the St Austell brewery chain, and food chains such as Eat, Caffe Uno and the Bagel Factory – but it has also been seen in the very newest wave of coffee houses, most notably working with Sacred of Soho.

Bewley’s managing director, Jim Corbett, has acknowledged to Coffee House magazine that the acquisition can be seen as providing a firm foothold for his company in the UK.

“We definitely see this as a springboard for further development in the UK. Bewley’s already supplies a number of major UK retailers and foodservice clients, and this is a natural development for us – the Darlington’s business model is very similar to ours in Ireland with a high focus and commitment to customer service and support.

“Darlington’s is now wholly owned by Bewley’s but will continue to trade under its own name and brand, and we intend to develop and grow the Darlington’s brand.”

Darlington’s coffees are currently produced by a number of different roasters. Asked whether Darlington’s clients would now find their coffees roasted by the Irish giant, Bewley’s tactfully replied: “We believe that access to Bewley’s procurement, blending and roasting expertise will enable Darlington’s to expand the range of services they offer, to the benefit of all their customers.”

The acquisition of Coffee#1 by Brains is considered a significant step in the growing interest of pubs in business other than alcohol. The leader in this sector is certainly JD Wetherspoon, with its regular promotions on coffee, which it used to open up a massive early morning breakfast trade. Other pub chains have followed with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment.

The SA Brain business has pubs through Wales, and also several just across the English border. The pub trade press reported last week that Brains had secured a new funding package which includes a £70 million revolving credit facility, and almost immediately afterwards came the news of the coffee acquisition. The purchase of Coffee#1 brings Brains fifteen cafes in England and Wales, with a combined turnover of £5 million, but the price of the acquisition has not been disclosed.

Some Brains pubs sell Costa coffee – it is not yet known whether that will continue.

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