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Clerkenwell cafés unflapped by Waitrose coffee offer SONY DSC - The Waitrose branch on St John Street Full view

Clerkenwell cafés unflapped by Waitrose coffee offer

Despite concern elsewhere, local shops are not worried by supermarket giving out free hot drinks

When the supermarket chain started giving out free coffee and tea every day as part of its myWaitrose customer loyalty programme last year, many predicted a hit for independent coffee shops. One café owner in Buckingham even complained about a 40% drop in trade.

Independent coffee shops on St John Street report no change in customer behaviour since the supermarket giant Waitrose started its free hot drink offer in the autumn, however.

The loyalty scheme also offers money off shopping when certain newspapers are purchased.

The Waitrose branch on St John Street
The Waitrose branch on St John Street

But the cafés of St John Street seem to be left surprisingly unaffected, even with a Waitrose branch right in front of their doors.

Peter Spracklen, who has been the owner of the Par Café for 22 years, says he hasn’t seen a change in coffee sales since it began.

“We suffer generally, not just because of that. We’ve suffered since Waitrose opened. I’ve been here 22 years and all those places [like Waitrose and Pret A Manger] have opened since then. It’s hard to quantify whether it’s the recession or down to competition, but my feeling is it’s a bit of both.”

Spracklen says most of the older people that make up his loyal customer base shun “that corporate thing. For them it’s a lifestyle choice not to go there”.

But young people, especially in Britain,  are much more brand-conscious and therefore more likely to get their morning cup from Waitrose, he says.

“One of the reasons people come here is because we’re an independent café,” he says. “But if you’re not careful you lose the individuality, which is what people like about the area. On this end of St John Street, there is still that creative thing going on.”

Directly across the street from Spracklen, the Bon Appetit Café and Sandwich Bar was taken over by new owners just three months ago.

“We’re having problems especially with coffee,” says Maria Nastoica, the manager. “It’s not working like [the previous owners] said it would.”

Nastoica was not aware of the Waitrose offer, but says the supermarket is tough competition anyway.

Daniel Olewicki, the manager of café chain Benugo’s outlet on St John Street, agrees. “I think we compete with Waitrose more over lunch,” he says.

“Here in Clerkenwell, especially for coffee in the mornings, I’d say we have probably 80% regular customers. I can’t say that there has been a change in coffee sales.”


Written by Yannic Rack

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