Peter Morris, MD of Walt Disney UK, will take over the reins. Coffee Republic is intent on further expansion to tap the UK's seemingly unstoppable thirst for lattes. Certainly, coffee bar culture has gained a permanent place alongside tea and warm beer in Brits' lives, although fierce competition in the sector will put pressure on retailers' margins.
It seems that the nation famed for its love of tea has at last embraced coffee culture. In the last decade coffee drinking in the UK has been revolutionized. Where once tea reigned supreme, coffee has become the drink of choice for many people when looking for a place to relax while shopping or meeting friends. The invention of the cafetiere has made it much easier to prepare fresh coffee at home, creating a greater appreciation of different coffee tastes. At the same time coffee bars like Coffee Republic have introduced the nation to a broader range of Italian and American-style coffees.
Britain's first coffee bar chain was the Seattle Coffee Shop, later bought by global market leader Starbucks. Coffee Republic also aims for an American atmosphere at its 80 outlets, offering a similar range of specialty coffees. The UK market leader is Costa Coffee, now owned by Whitbread, which opts for a more Italian ambience at its 200 outlets. There is also Aroma, a London-based chain of coffee bars bought by McDonald's in late 1999 to strengthen its growing coffee interests, as well as a host of smaller chains offering a similar product range.
Coffee bar critics argue that Britons' interest in coffee bars is transitory and that the market will soon become saturated, with customers deterred by high prices. At over GBP2 a cup, it can easily cost more than a pint of beer. But at the same time there are plenty of reasons to assume that cafe society will endure. People, especially women, appreciate a healthier alternative meeting place to pubs. As lifestyles become more mobile there is also an increasing need for a 'third place' - an informal place away from work or home suitable for meeting, socializing, or simply taking a break while shopping. Although competition between chains is likely to put pressure on coffee prices, Coffee Republic and its rivals will be a permanent feature of British high streets.