The Big Interview: Brewer St Coffee
Fuller’s, the London-based brewer and pub operator, launched its Brewer St Coffee brand in 2012 working in partnership with Matthew Algie. Since then it has seen coffee outperform food and drink sales, with double-digit growth on a like-for-like basis for the last four to five years. Kate Oppenheim talks to Fuller’s head of retail marketing Nick Corden to find out more.
Driving up the coffee offer within Fuller's pubs was firmly on the agenda for Nick when he arrived at the London brewer's HQ in 2012. And so it wasn't long before a delegation from Fuller's met with roasters at Matthew Algie to taste, discuss and ultimately come up with their own unique blend to create an exclusive coffee offer for its 200-strong managed pub estate and hotel division.
"It's the Fuller's way to always be unique and create a point of difference for our customers. We always take the trouble and time to get it right. Matthew Algie was a good fit for us. There were similarities in our businesses, both long-established and family run," explains Nick, adding that head brewer Georgina Young played a key role in working with the roasters to find the right blend, something 'well-balanced and with the taste profile to match Fuller's beers'.
"We're even using our coffee in our Espresso Stout, a Christmas beer, and it's also used to flavour our exclusive buffalo milk ice-cream." With the Brewer St Coffee flavours featuring across the Fuller's range, it does, as Nick says "complete the circle".
He continues: "Our Brewer St blend is made by Matthew Algie only for us using three types of Arabica beans from Brazil, Nicaragua and Western Sumatra." It uses bean-to-cup machines in premises with the highest coffee output and traditional machines elsewhere – but Nick emphasises that all the coffee served is of the same, premium, quality. Matthew Algie supplies all the machines, coffee and training.
Early success with Brewer St Coffee led Fuller's to open a standalone coffee shop in 2014, called The Fields in Northfields, Ealing, where sales are booming. "It's very popular and trades very well. There's room for buggies and being 100 yards from a primary school, it attracts lots of mums."
The coffee shop is also located right next door to Fuller's pub, the Plough Inn. "They are separate buildings and we don't do any cross-promotions although I expect that the Plough now serves the best cup of coffee in our pub estate!" The shop's not not branded Fuller's and Nick suspects customers view it as an independent. Yet currently there are no plans to open more.
"It's not core to what we do, however, what it has done is to really raise our skill levels in coffee. It's a very competitive market, especially in London, so the standards have got to be to a very high level and we've been able to transfer the skills we've learned in the café to the pubs," says Nick.
Location has also been key when it comes down to coffee sales growth in Fuller's pubs, he continues. "When we think about coffee success, we think about transport hubs – good examples are our pubs like the Parcel Yard on Kings Cross station, London Pride at Heathrow or the Tap on the Line at Kew, and also at our hotels. It's harder for suburban sites unless they've become known for their breakfasts, and a good example of that is the White Horse in Richmond, which also happens to sit next door to a kindergarten and again has become very popular with the mums."
A good food offer is also essential, Nick believes. "It's quite easy to sell someone a coffee after a meal and I think every food pub can sell more coffee," he says, adding that he sees no reason why the double-digit, like-for-like sales growth seen over the last four to five years can't continue.
"Fuller's is about quality: from our beer to our food it's all premium and the standards in our kitchens are immaculate. What I've learned about coffee over the years – and it's something I'm passionate about [Nick spent nine years at Whitbread, owners of Costa Coffee] – is that it's 80% about the people and 20% the machines. If someone doesn't know how to use the equipment properly, they are not going to make good coffee.
"It helps too that our staff, many of whom are young, like coffee and enjoy being able to express themselves through their latté art. It's fun and they can create something that's personal to them and vary it, setting themes for the time of year."
Training, is also key to success. All premises are visited once a quarter by Matthew Algie, with pubs being able to request follow-up training if they require it. Matthew Algie also offers monthly training at its North London development centre, where staff are trained in mid- to upper-skill levels. "It's one of our most popular courses and it's always booked out every month," says Nick, adding that with the pub sector experiencing high staff turnovers, continued training for the workforce to maintain the high standards was critical in order to sell more coffee.
There are also 12 coffee champions within the business, Fuller's top baristas, who create interest around, inspire and help develop Fuller's very own 'coffee culture'. "It's great to have experts within the business with these very high standards."
While Fuller's has no plans for more cafés, it's attention is firmly focussed on offering a bigger and better coffee offer in all new pubs and refurbishments within its managed house and hotel divisions.
Nick explains: "In all new pub acquisitions, Fuller's is showing that it takes Brewer St very seriously, thinking about where the offer sits within any refurbishment, giving it more space and more visual prominence."
Currently there are only a dozen or so pubs within its tenanted/leased side of the business stocking Brewer St Coffee, as there isn't the same requirement on these 180-odd sites to buy Fuller's coffee as there is with the beer and wine supply.
A further opportunity for growth in coffee sales is coming from Fuller's mobile Brewer St Coffee cart, which is used for outdoor events. The White Buck in the New Forest has had good success with a mobile coffee offering during the annual Rotary Club annual classic car rally, while Fuller's also uses one at the annual Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich at Easter.
Looking at all the point-of-sale and marketing material Fuller's has created for use in their premises to promote Brewer St Coffee, with everything from coffee cocktail ideas to how to draw the perfect coffee bean on chalk-boards, it's clear that this world-class brewer of beer is firmly focused on growing its reputation as a provider of great coffee.
Matthew Algie will be exhibiting on Stand E16 at the European Coffee Expo on May 22-23 at London's Olympia. For more details go to www.EuropeanCoffeeExpo.com