Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Turning Point I Feared

I had high hopes for London. You might claim they come from a place of misguided optimism, and I’d probably struggle to argue with you. The city and much of the UK seems to be at an inflexion point of coffee industry culture.

I rarely talk about Square Mile Coffee Roasters on here but, in this case, I can’t help but bring up our approach and our philosophy. When we started out there weren’t a lot of roasters in London that really cared about coffee. There was Monmouth, there was Union. Outside of the city, there were people like HasBean and James Gourmet Coffee (this is not an exhaustive list). Speciality was tiny. Like any new company we needed to grow but, from the outset, we felt that taking a wholesale account from Monmouth, or from Union, wasn’t really growing the market. It wouldn’t result in more speciality coffee being bought from producers, or more consumers drinking better coffee. It was a swap, not an addition. Our policy was not to actively try to take accounts away from speciality coffee roasters (though I cannot pretend that there weren’t instances where customers chose to change supplier).

As a result, we grew and we felt the market grew as well. I’ve written before about the challenge cafes face in terms of choosing to either make or steal customers. Unsurprisingly the same question now applies to the coffee roasting companies of the UK.

Competition is a good thing. For cafes, this should result in greater choice, improved quality, improved service. For roasters, it should result in increased innovation and reduced complacency. Competition is a healthy and important part of business. However, the UK seems to have reached an interesting point where companies increasingly feel that the pressure to grow is the most important pressure to succumb to. For many of us this means we have a difficult set of choices.

We can use every tool in our arsenal to grow. We can discount our product, we can offer longer lines of credit, we can offer bribes in the form of a free espresso machine for a cafe to accept substandard produce at a very high price. We can choose to see our direct competitors’ customer base as the easiest source of growth. I don’t think this offers sustainable, secure growth. Instead, I think it increases the fragility in the industry.

The other form of growth is slower, it is harder, but it is more secure and more valuable in the long term. Many businesses face a choice that can be (somewhat glibly) described as: do I grow my business first, or do I grow my industry so that my business has space to grow? Phrased this way it is a deeply unfair question. Businesses require investment, of time and of resources, and they necessitate a return. You can’t pay the rent or buy food with the goodwill of an industry.

Ironically I believe that this frantic phase of competition that we’re seeing now could lead to increased consolidation in the future, or decreased choice and decreased diversity.

If you see me, or Square Mile Coffee Roasters, as a competitor then I’m sure you will read this through a lens that makes me seem like a greedy man trying to protect what I have gained. Perhaps you’ll think that I’m trying to discourage competition, to make my own life easier, to protect my slice of the pie. I’m not sure there’s anything I can write that might dissuade you. I can only reiterate that I believe competition is essential (especially if you’re someone who is competitive by nature), and I still recall the feeling of frustration that came with being described as ubiquitous at a time (February 2010) where we had about 30 wholesale accounts in a city of 12 million people.

I’ve often written about the state of the industry, and how I see the future. I believe that there is an opportunity for the industry to renew its collaborative spirit, to see the commodity coffee dressed up as something special as the real competition, and for us to grow sustainably. What I’m seeing right now is our failure to take the harder, but more rewarding road. I shall be very happy to be proved wrong.

    Wednesday, 1 February 2017

    Coffee Jobs Update: New Features & Pay Transparency

    We’ve rolled out a few new features on Coffee Jobs Board this month. I want to talk about where we are going with it, because I hope it will be something valuable and useful.

    There’s been a lot of talk about pay, transparency and gender in coffee. I’m interested in providing useful benchmarking for people who work in coffee, that gives them a salary expectation that is based solely on their experience.

    We’ve just started encouraging applicants to sign up for an account. You’re asked to share your experience, as a function of both time and competency, for a number of key skills in coffee. You’re also asked what your current wage is, which will perhaps make some people uncomfortable but I believe could be incredibly useful. The goal is two-fold here. Employers have repeatedly asked to be able to search through potential candidates – and so we wanted them to be able to search by skill or experience, i.e. show anyone with 1 year of experience in a management position or someone who is able to pour latte art etc…

    What I’m more excited about is being able to take the information and provide expectations to both employer and employee for what a position is worth. What are two years of experience making coffee at a high level, in a city like London worth? What should you be paid? What should an employer be offering to make a role attractive? Once we have enough users we can answer those questions for different geographies, and the benchmarking tool will go live. It will be available to anyone, but we hope people will sign up and contribute to the data to make it more accurate in more parts of the world. What I particularly like about this is that it is gender agnostic.

    I should add that signing up doesn’t mean that you’re looking for a job, you can decide whether or not employers can contact you. You can create an account on the here.

    New Features:


    • Detailed employee profile with Barista and Management skills and certificates received.
    • Salary information request in the employees’ form profile for benchmarking purposes.
    • Registered users can make one-click applications to job offers that have this feature enabled.
    • Search jobs by location and distance ranges (desktop only at the moment).
    • Receive email notifications of the type of job offers of your choice (Barista, All-rounder, FOH staff, Floor staff, Food prep, Kitchen staff, Roaster, Assistance Manager, Manager, Other).
    • Enable profile to include it in the CV library to receive job offers directly from hiring employers.


    • Job bundles now available for users that post jobs frequently.
    • Enable one-click applications for job offers that do not require covering letter.
    • Browse job applications faster by reviewing first the profiles that best matches the required skills.
    • Browse employee CV library based on skill set to find the perfect candidate for the job (this will obviously improve as more people sign up). This will be free until the end of March, then there will be a fee to browse.

    Coming Soon:

    One of the headaches for a cafe is suddenly being short staffed. The next feature we’re rolling out will be emergency shifts. As an employee, you can mark yourself as available for contact for emergency shifts. As an employer, you can search a database of people who are willing to be contacted for last minute work.

    Any thoughts, ideas or comments are welcome – drop us a line: