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Ethical Food & Drink – Coffee Shops

The demand for premium coffee has led to a rapid increase in the number of coffee shops in the UK, with over 7,421 branded outlets in 2017.  Major companies’ influence on the world coffee market has contributed to the weak bargaining position of the small-scale producers, many of whom face debt and poverty. However, supporting ethical schemes such as fair trade can reconcile our enjoyment of coffee shops with the needs of the producers.

UK coffee shop market

The retail coffee shop market was worth £9.6 billion in 2017 according to a report by Allegra World Coffee Portal.  Branded cafés account for an estimated £4 billion of this business, and the three main players (Starbucks, Caffè Nero and Costa Coffee) make up over half of the branded market – and that market is still growing. Predictions that demand for premium coffee would only be a short-lived trend in Britain have been discredited, as the country embraces a European-style café culture. Allegra anticipates the total UK coffee shop market will exceed 31,400 – up from the current total of 24,061 – with a turnover of £13bn by 2022.

The growth of chain cafés throughout Europe and North America has made a small number of companies very influential in the coffee market as a whole. Most notably, Starbucks now buys 2.2 per cent of the world’s coffee. Large companies are able to dictate terms to smaller producers and force down the price of coffee, pushing many small producers below the poverty line. This is a serious problem that all coffee drinkers should be aware of.

    Fair trade

    The fair trade scheme is the most effective and well-known way to help the 20 million people involved in the production of coffee. Fair trade protects small producers from fluctuating prices and acquisitive middlemen by guaranteeing a minimum price for their coffee and ensuring that farmers are paid regularly. The scheme also charges a premium of 15 US cents per pound of coffee to fund future development. The growing popularity of coffee shops means that cafés can make a significant difference by embracing fair trade.

    Coffee shop wars

    The growth of branded coffee shops has contributed to the growing monotony of Britain’s high streets. Starbucks in particular has been criticised for its aggressive expansion. The resources of the company enable it to sacrifice immediate profits in order to ensure that the brand is visible in prime locations and town centres. Starbucks has also been accused of deliberately locating branches near other established cafés in order to force competitors out of the market. Readers who are concerned about these tactics, and those who value diversity on the high street, can easily vote with their wallet by supporting the smaller coffee shops.

    Tea drinkers may want to support their local tea rooms rather than buying from branded coffee shops.

    Key Research

    Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Food & Drink:

    We ave have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Soho Coffee, Greggs, AMT Coffee, Coffee Republic, Esquires, Costa Coffee, Puccino’s, Caffè Nero, Coffee #1, Love Coffee, Muffin Break, Caffè Ritazza, Pret a Manger and Starbucks

    Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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