Build back better? It starts with your cappuccino

By Summer Brooks, Stephen Miller and Sarah Thelwall

New research commissioned by Power to Change has revealed that buying a coffee from a community business or socially-minded café not only keeps more money in the local area to support local people, it costs less too.  

Everyone loves coffee. When asked what people missed during lockdown, the second most popular response people gave was visiting cafes and coffee shops (with visiting friends and family being the thing we missed most). But what if the money you spend on a cappuccino could go further than just the coffee itself?

Power to Change has launched the Cappuccino Index, to help coffee lovers get more bang for their bean and help community businesses develop their businesses.

The Index helps consumers locate and compare the cost of coffees provided by community businesses against chains and independent cafes. It also helps community businesses reflect on their product pricing strategies.

To build the Index, we decided to keep the focus local for the first iteration, exploring the coffee scene in Bristol. We commissioned the agency MyCake to conduct an audit of cafés across the city, and compare how they priced a cappuccino. They found that while a chain like Starbucks charges an average £2.70 for a cappuccino, community businesses in the city charge an average of £2.10, with one charging as little as 90p.

For aficionados, lower prices may raise alarm bells. But many of the cafés in the Cappuccino Index emphasised not just the quality of their coffee, but the social equity of their supply chain and the extent to which they integrated ‘Fairtrade’ at every stage, from bean to cup. Many are also actively reducing waste, by using ‘eco-friendly’ cups and encouraging customers to bring their own. What’s more, when buying a coffee from a community business, you’re not just getting a hot drink, you’re supporting the local community too.

Community businesses re-invest 56p in every £1 they receive back into the local economy, and deliver services which, among other impacts, enhance young people’s employment prospects, reduce social isolation and improve local residents’ health and wellbeing.

The City Farm Café at Windmill Hill City Farm is one such community business, which sources most of its produce from the farm itself or from local suppliers. Their coffee is roasted just two miles down the road at Wogan Coffee, a small independent which is helping children in Nicaragua access education as well as paying for teaching staff, accommodation and food for the students and staff through their Direct Trade partnership.

Profits from the café are used to fund educational, recreational and therapeutic facilities and activities for local people including a range of farmyard animals, community gardens, picnic area, an adventure playground, community building with meeting spaces, a five-a-side pitch, environmental and craft-based courses, and a nursery for children.

To help build the café, Windmill Hill City Farm received £244,000 from Power to Change’s Community Business Fund in 2016, and has recently received emergency funding from the Trust to support the losses faced as a result of Covid-19 and adapt the business to operate under new guidelines.

Buy a cappuccino, rebuild your community

Where you spend your money matters. For every £1 spent with a large business, only 40p stays within the area where it was spent. So when you buy your coffee from a high street chain, most of the money leaves your local area. Yet when you buy with a small business, most of the money stays in the local economy, helping your high street rebound after this difficult period. That’s because small businesses are more likely to buy locally, secure other services locally (e.g. coffee machine repairs) and be part of local supply chains. Yet where do Brits buy most of their coffee? Primarily in high street chains, and almost half of UK consumers bought a hot drink at Costa Coffee last year. That represents a significant proportion of money leaving an area, and that’s without looking at the percentage of tax chains pay.

The Cappuccino Index illustrates how we can spend our money more wisely, and how community businesses price their products differently from purely for-profit firms. Social and economic impact is integral to their business model. So, if we really want to build back better, let’s start with where we buy our coffee.

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