A short but sweet article from the London Evening Standard succinctly hits the key factors behind the ongoing success of coffee retailers despite the economic downturn. There’s no hard data in the story, but after all, the subject matter expert interviewed is selling a report with their company findings.

Jonathan Prynn, Consumer Affairs Editor

CHAIN coffee shops are opening at the rate of 10 a week, a study reveals today.

The numbers have boomed much faster than forecast by experts who say consumers now consider their daily brew a “non-negotiable” treat.

The record growth has defied the economic downturn as well as attempts by some councils to limit numbers. It also scotches predictions coffee drinkers would switch from buying it out to making it more cheaply at home.

Across Britain in the past 12 months there were 245 new Costa Coffees, 160 Starbucks, 83 Caffè Neros and 78 openings by smaller chains, according to research by consultants Allegra Strategies.

Overall, 566 branded coffee shops were launched, increasing the total by 25 per cent to 2,804. If sandwich chains such as Pret a Manger and Eat are included the total increase rises to 657. Allegra Strategies managing director Jeffrey Young said even in the credit crunch coffee was “a treat consumers do not want to deprive themselves of”.

He said: “This is the first recession this industry has had to trade through. In the early Nineties people could only get a coffee in a greasy spoon. It’s difficult to imagine now. It’s like looking back and saying ‘what did we do before computers?” The success of the coffee shop chain, a phenomenon that barely existed in Britain a decade ago, is the mirror image of pubs’ fortunes. In 1998, there were 61,000 pubs compared with 57,200 this April, a loss of 380 a year.

Coffee shops have become new social hubs that are often seen as more versatile and inclusive than pubs. JK Rowling famously used one as her “study” when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Last month headhunters used coffee shops in Docklands to recruit staff when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Allegra Strategies’ study, called Has the Coffee Shop Bubble Burst, says that if independent coffee shops are included, as well as outlets in hotels, garages, stores and supermarkets there are now more than 10,000 across Britain, with a total turnover estimated at more than £5billion.