Exploring the unstoppable rise of Costa Coffee

Aidan Gant
May 26, 2022
Exploring the unstoppable rise of Costa Coffee

Since its humble origins in South London in 1971, Costa Coffee has grown into a global coffee behemoth. According to the Brand Strength Index (BSI), which looks at the efficacy of a brand’s performance, it ranks only second to McDonald’s in the restaurant sector, having recently overtaken US rivals Starbucks.

The company was established by Italian brothers, Sergio and Bruno Costa. It has since transformed from a single wholesale roastery into one of the most well-known brands in the hospitality sector.

Long-standing parent company Whitbread owned and operated Costa Coffee since its days as a 41-brand small chain. Then, in 2018, it was bought out by global beverage superpower Coca Cola for $4.9 billion. This buyout helped cement Costa Coffee’s already well-established position in the global market.

But what makes Costa Coffee so popular, and how can roasters replicate its success?

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Costa Coffee logo lit up on dark background

Recognisable branding

Italian coffee terminology has become deeply entrenched in globalised coffee culture. Nearly all modern espresso-based milk drinks that came with second wave coffee still carry their Italian names – except for the flat white.

As far as coffee goes, public opinion still seems to see Italian and quality as almost synonymous. Due to this, many roasters find it helpful to associate Italian heritage onto their coffee offerings.

It certainly seems to work well for Costa Coffee. They have managed to forge a path into the mainstream market that seems to elude many specialty, artisanal coffee shops.

For many customers, the exclusive image portrayed by the specialty coffee can be daunting. While this is a reputation the sector is keen to shift, the nature of perfectionism can be alienating to the average customer.

However, Costa Coffee has managed to create a brand that combined Italian class with a touch of Britishness. They’ve managed to do this by including items such as oversized Jammy Dodgers at the forefront of its product range.

Jammy Dodgers are a popular British biscuit that is typically made from shortcake and filled with a raspberry or strawberry flavoured jam.

As a company, Costa Coffee have given their brand and products an approachability factor that many other coffee shops have been unable to do.

For instance, the logo and colour palette of the brand are instantly recognisable. The warm burgundy badge aims to reflect confidence and invoke a sense of warmth and friendliness.

The branding has remained consistent since the Whitbread overhaul in 1995. This continuity has helped create a stable and recognisable brand image, which is often seen across high streets in the UK.

Ceramic Costa Coffee mug with cappuccino inside on wooden counter.

Repeatability and consistency

Another key area where Costa Coffee has been effective is in creating a consistent and repeatable experience.

Once a customer walks through the doors of a Costa Coffee shop, they could be almost anywhere in the world. The only clue would be the language the server tries to upsell in.

For many customers, this universality helps breed familiarity. Most customers like to know what to expect when ordering something, and they want to understand the process.

The beans at Costa are sourced from various global locations and are roasted dark in order for the process to be repeated easily. Additionally, this is to ensure that milk does not dilute the flavour of the coffee.

That said, another reason customers return to Costa Coffee is because of the variety of food and drinks it offers.

In addition to their staple offerings, the brand is always debuting new drinks, such as their Frostino blended drinks. These can be made with or without coffee, and include interesting flavour combinations such as salted caramel.

Part of Costa’s success lies in its ability to reach a middle ground. The combination of ubiquity and anonymity of its branches has helped the company create establishments where customers feel comfortable and at home.

The homey feel of Costa Coffee branches has helped the company become a leader in terms of revenue. Notably, its 2019 annual turnover in the UK alone was £880.59 billion – over twice as much as its competitors.

Coffee shop in London filled with customers

Expansion into retail

Since the Coca Cola buyout, Costa Coffee has efficiently diversified its income stream.

Notably, it is quite difficult to find a town within the UK that does not contain a Costa Coffee. Additionally, since the company purchased self service machines, customers can grab a Costa coffee anywhere from the hospital to the office.

Increasingly, Costa Coffee products are also available on supermarket shelves. This includes their signature blends available as ground or whole bean and their expanding ready-to-drink (RTD) options.

Environmental awareness amongst UK consumers has also surged in the past year, with 85% now making more sustainable lifestyle choices. In 2019, UK consumers voted Costa Coffee as the country’s most ethical coffee shop.

The list of Costa Coffee’s green credentials includes the world’s most sustainable roastery, which is powered by 100% renewable energy. This establishment uses processes that reduce the energy needed to roast a tonne of coffee by up to 30%. Furthermore, it uses a rainwater harvesting system to generate hot water that is used throughout the roastery.

Coupled with this, in 2019, Costa Coffee diverted over 7,000 tonnes of waste from landfill and removed 45 million plastic straws from its stores.

More so, in 2021, the company announced it changed the lining of their takeaway cups to a plant-based plastic, rather than an oil-based lining. As a result, the cups have a 26% lower carbon footprint when recycled.

Perhaps its success lies in the fact that Costa Coffee is willing to adapt and cater to the demands and expectations of consumers.

Caucasian female hand holding open multilayer kraft paper coffee pouch lined with PLA, holding roasted coffee beans.

At MTPak Coffee, we provide specialty roasters around the world with sustainable packaging services. This includes a range of compostable takeaway coffee cups that are made from recycled kraft paper and lined with polylactic acid (PLA), a fully compostable bioplastic made from plant-based starches.

Our range includes double or single wall cups, as well as coffee cup sleeves. We can also help you brand your takeaway coffee cups with details of your business, allowing you to communicate the cup’s recycling qualities to customers.

Furthermore, we offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options. This means you can order as little as 500 fully customised units in just five working days.

For more information on sustainable takeaway coffee cups, contact our team

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Exploring the unstoppable rise of Costa Coffee

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