The café trade – the star in a dismal high-street setting?

The coffee shop sector continues to grow – but, in two reports out this month, we find that it is the only growth area in an often depressing retail landscape, and once again it has been confirmed that the beverage sector needs to re-appraise the value of the older consumer. 

According to Keynote’s new ‘Coffee and Sandwich Shops’ report, there are over 15,000 coffee shops in the UK, with chains making up around 22 per cent of the market of these. The chains, says Keynote, are ‘displaying apparently unstoppable growth’, and the number of top ten branded coffee shops is expected to grow by over 21 per cent between now and 2017.

The problem with many trade reports is that a reliance on remarkably detailed statistics and surveys tends to cloud the overall picture – however, there are two useful figures in the latest Keynote work.

One is that 54 per cent of those adults surveyed had been to a coffee house in the year to last December, and most went to them less than once a month. This is considerably more realistic than some of the ‘surveys’ which have been released in recent years, some of which have contained wildly improbable figures in an attempt to suggest that most of the UK population spends its days in Starbucks!

It is curious to see that in 2012, ‘the likelihood that a respondent would have visited a coffee shop increased with age’.  The Keynote figures suggest that ‘those aged under 45 were generally less likely than average to have visited a coffee shop in 2012, while those aged above 45 were more likely than average to have done so’.  In detail, 54 per cent of 35-44 year olds said they had visited a coffee shop, and quite remarkably, 59 and of those aged 65 and over had done so.

Indeed, for those who visited a coffee shop four times a week, and for those who visited two or three times a week, the number of over-65s is virtually the same as the number of under-25s… the number of over 65s, and the number 45-65s, who visit once a week is greater than the number of under-25s.

Not surprisingly, Keynote echoes the often-quoted warning that it is going to become more important to look beyond the hipness and coolness of youth, and understand the grey market.

Elsewhere, the latest report from the Local Data Company looks at this analyst’s specialist subject, the make-up of Britain’s high streets.  It regularly reviews 1,900 high streets, to check occupancy rates and the rise and fall of various business sectors.

This autumn, says LDC, one in seven shops remain empty. The shop vacancy rate in 650 town centres remains constant at that figure, and the worst situation is to be found in shopping centres or malls, where the average is 16.1 per cent. This, says LDC, is at an all-time high.

Regional analysis again shows significant variations – vacancy in London is nine per cent, while in the North West it is more than twice that at 20 per cent.

A surprising figure, says LDC, is that while the number of vacant shops in the top 650 town centres is 22,339, there has actually been growth in ‘stock’, or the number of buildings available for shop use – this has gone up by 403 units.

In the specialist food and beverage sector, LDC echoes the observations of Keynote, saying that openings in this sector are three times that of any other business type.

“A significant number of high streets are ‘long term sick’ with little or no prospect of re-occupation as shops,” remarks LDC.  “In the top 650 town centres alone, these empty shops equate to 23 equivalents of Sheffield city centre being devoid of any trading shops. Demolition or alternative use is the only option for these ‘surplus to requirement’ shops.

“To that end restaurants, bars, cafes and even betting shops have come to the rescue as the growth of leisure takes off in our town centres. They will be able to absorb some but not all of this excess stock.”


Key Note’s 2011 Market Assessment Update, Coffee & Sandwich Shops  is available to purchase from Key Note on 0845-504 0452, by e-mail at or at, priced £395.

Local Data Company:

This story, by Boughton’s Coffee House magazine, also appears on the Caffe Culture news portal, the site allied to the coffee trade’s main show:



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