Confidence in the coffee shop sector remains high, even though café operators have expressed some concern over current trading conditions.
The finding comes from a survey of independent coffee-shop operators by Jeffrey Young of Allegra, the specialist research organisation covering the food and beverage trades.
Two hundred independent café operators gave Allegra their views, and just over half described the current trading conditions as more difficult than a year ago. Fifteen per cent said things were ‘much more difficult'. Typical responses were that the average customer spend has stayed static while cost of goods has risen, and that retention of good staff remains difficult.
The main gripes of café operators included too many branches of the big branded chain cafes, high property costs, high labour costs, and a shortage of suitable staff.
Customer numbers have been only partially affected by the economic slowdown. Although 27% of respondents have felt a decline in visitors in the last months, 31% have recorded an increase.
Despite the geographical growth of chain operators (local councils are continually complaining about too many coffee houses) only 7% of operators think their area is over-supplied.
Two-fifths of independent respondents said that branded coffee chains do not influence their business - indeed, it has always been known that some independent café operators believe that having an international chain in the vicinity gives them an opportunity to promote their own individuality.
Quality of coffee is the main success factor for independent coffee shops, mentioned by 70% of interviewees. This was rated higher than location, customer service and ambience.
By Ian Boughton