Sunday, 28 October 2012

Costa - Standing up for Goliath

Over the weekend there has been a lot in the news about what the Observer dubbed the ‘David and Goliath fight’ between the traders of Totnes and Costa Coffee. The traders of Totnes have succeeded in their campaign to keep Costa out.

This story has been portrayed as something out of an Ealing Comedy or a Bill Forsyth film. The little people making a stand against the inhuman corporate machine. Sorry I am not going to swallow this brew.

In this narrative Costa are portrayed as some kind of Barista manned death star.  This is hardly fair. They are (in my opinion) the third best of the big chains and have brought half decent coffee to locations that previously only offered cups of warm dust.

What it looks like from where I stand is a group of politically connected local coffee shops and their suppliers mobilising against legitimate competition. Why if the residents of Totnes so much prefer their independent coffee shops would they have anything to do with the corporate new kid on the block? Surely the customers would stay away, Costa would lose money and ultimately move on?

While some of the articles have suggested there are already enough coffee shops in Totnes, the site Costa acquired must have had planning permission for this use. If not the Council could have simply excluded them by refusing to approve the change of use.

My assumption is that the real fear is that the broad based appeal of Costa is something that the residents of Totnes would in practice rather like. This would eat into the profits of all these independents that the people apparently love, and those who supply them.

Independent providers do bring diversity and nobody will starve because of Costa’s choice to skip Totnes. However I cannot get the warm glow from this that some have found. A business that would have provided employment, a legitimate competition to the existing traders and people might have liked has been excluded. Hooray!