January 15, 2013 by Beans Ahoy
As you may have gathered from this Blog, we try to remain as nonpartisan as possible. Beans Ahoy has focused on the coffee, its quality, taste, aroma, etc. Where we have ventured into the issues surrounding coffee such as its trade, the ‘fairness’, the price, we have tried to do so out of purely personal opinion which is not intended to influence someone’s wish drink the coffee. However, in the last two weeks the coffee chain Harris + Hoole has come under sustained attack in the press for being part owned by Tesco. A characteristic some segments of the press say somehow makes it less worthy. So for this Blog post I am going to break with the tradition of it being about the coffee, and offer an opinion on the business and company side of coffee, and specifically Harris + Hoole.
As we all know the financial crash of 2008 caused serious damage to the UK economy. The availability of credit dried up quickly and financing on both a company and personal level became exceptionally difficult. Start-up businesses in the UK progressed at a glacial pace, with dozens going under every week. There are of course differing opinions on what caused the problem, but they are largely irrelevant for our purposes and the discussion is best saved for another day because the situation is what it is, and the best way of dealing with it must be found.
Enter Harris + Hoole. The UK high street has been crying out for some decent quality competition. The never ending stream of Starbucks, Costa, and Nero is getting dull. While it is fine to get you going in the morning, it really doesn’t taste very good (see: https://beansahoy.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/the-battle-of-the-big-boys/). What we in the UK desperately needed was a fresh face that took the quality of the coffee a little more seriously, and that is exactly what Harris + Hoole has done. The fact that H+H is funded by Tesco’s does not really bare any relevance to their ability to provide good coffee. The accusation that this is somehow a cover for Tesco’s is absurd. A simple internet search reveals articles written in August of 2012 in both the Independent and Guardian (hardly small publications) explaining that 49% is owned by Tesco’s.
We also have to come back to the issue of funding which Nick Tolley (Harris + Hoole co-founder) said in the 14 January 2013 Evening Standard was almost impossible to obtain from Banks. No doubt the funding was easier to obtain from Tesco’s and on more favorable terms. So why not? Whether the money comes from a large corporation, private equity firm, bank, or personal savings, it does not detract from the quality of the product or the ability to buy a good cup of coffee.
What I suspect is the real cause of the stir behind this almost none issue is a small group of ‘activists’ and journalists that take a dislike to anything big, because its big. There are claims that companies such as Tesco’s have killed off the small local producers, but that is simply not Tesco’s fault. We as consumers are all powerful. Where we choose to spend our money determines whether one business or another will survive. No one is stopping people from shopping at local grocery stores. Tesco’s did not gain 30% of the grocery market by some act of magic or trickery. They gained it through people choosing of their own free will to shop there.
The simple fact is that Harris + Hoole remains the best wide spread place for coffee (although arguably need more branches in central London). Their coffee is much better than the other chains, and for once there is an emphasis on the quality of the product and bespoke approach, which I think shows that Nick Tolley is right when he insists the three siblings are in the driver’s seat of Harris + Hoole.
I say good for them for securing funding that they are clearly happy with from a company that can provide the funding and expertise to expand on a large scale. Hopefully now, people in the UK may start to become educated on the complexities of coffee, or be offered even a glimpse into the world of fantastic tastes and aromas of something other than over roasted grit and milk.