Costa Coffee brings London-style caffeine culture to PH

Specialty coffee shops have sprouted in the country’s capital region in recent years. Some are espousing the third-wave coffee experience; most wanting to be distinct in their design; and one leading them all with that familiar twin-tailed siren on a sea of green.

Together, they make up a P10-billion ($218.47 million) industry, according to the market research of Robinsons Retail Holdings Incorporated, which is also planning to squeeze into and expand in this space London style.

Robinsons Retail the Philippines’ second largest multi-format retailer has brought top British brand Costa Coffee to Metro Manila in its first foray into the food and beverage sector.

Since June, it has launched two branches: one in Eastwood City in Quezon City and another in Robinsons Place in Manila. Another 3 stores will be opened by end-2015 in Bonifacio Global City (Taguig City), Tera Tower (Quezon City), and Robinsons Place Antipolo (Rizal).

Corinne Milagan, general manager of Costa Coffee Philippines, said they aim to build 70 stores in 5 years, which is conservative considering their connection to the shopping malls, residences, and office buildings of Robinsons Land Corporation.

The Robinsons retail and property development units are under the JG Summit conglomerate of the Gokongwei family.

'Size is not everything'

In the United Kingdom, global brand Starbucks trails behind Costa Coffee with 3 times fewer outlets owned.

But in the Philippines, the American coffeehouse, franchised by Rustan Coffee Corporation of the Tantoco family, has almost two decades’ worth of advantage with more than 200 stores to boot.

“We don’t have to be bigger than Starbucks. Size is not everything,” said Christopher Rogers, managing director of Costa Coffee International.

Rogers pointed out that “it’s not all about being bigger than Starbucks. It’s about bringing a new proposition to the market – something that exists in its own right, that customers want to come to, [and that is] profitable. If that means we’re [only] 150 stores, that’s fine.”

Thus, Costa Coffee has arrived in the country with a bit of the London flair and the qualities the British love about their coffee.

Signature blend

Foremost is its signature base called Mocha Italia, a combination of Arabica and Robusta beans.

The “truly smooth, round rich tasting” blend was developed by brothers Bruno and Sergio Costa, who founded the café in 1971. When the company changed hands in 1995, the new owner, Whitman PLC, continued blending and slow-roasting Mocha Italia at the Old Paradise Street Roastery in London.

Gennaro Pelliccia, once acclaimed for having the world’s most expensive tongue – insured at £10 million – is the "Master of Coffee." He is in charge of tasting the beans before bags of them are sent off to the 3,200 Costa Coffee stores in 31 countries.

More than 6,000 miles away, in Manila, the brand serves handcrafted coffee, among which are The Flat White, its specialty, and The Frostino, its custom ice-blended drinks made for Filipinos.

British invasion, coffee-wise

Even as the food and drinks are British-inspired, they also cater to the local tastes.

The Philippines has a unique mix of Eastern and Western influences – American, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad said Costa Coffee is a welcome force in pushing British presence further into the heart of the country. (READ: UK firms eye business opportunities in PH)

“Now, I cannot dislodge the economic power of the United States here,” Ahmad said. “But through coffee, it’s easy.”

Apart from Filipinos who probably are missing Costa Coffee after visiting or living in the United Kingdom, he noted that his fellow Britons who are traveling or staying in the Philippines can also be part of the company’s market.

On local shores, the British are the biggest contingent from the European Union.

“With travel, magazine, media, television, and film, I think you’ll see more and more people are  finding something that they like out of what it is that we do in the UK,” Ahmad added.

“We're not trying to dislodge Filipino culture, but we live with it. As you’re growing and your taste expands, I think UK is very, very well-positioned to attract that sort of attention in the marketplace, [especially] in lifestyle.”

Flexibility

The flexibility of a café cannot be overlooked. Ahmad said he can stay in as long as he wants. It does not matter if he orders a cup of coffee or 3 in that span of time.

Costa Coffee wants to provide people with that flexibility. Having two locations to date, the coffeehouse is easily accessible to workers, students, businesspeople, the casual mall-goer, and the caffeine-obsessed.

Couches with Union Jack cushions and red phone booths are the obvious signs of its nook. The dining tables and chairs are conducive for reading, studying, mobile working, and meeting for business; while the couches are comfortable for chatting with friends or colleagues, talking with a date, and simply enjoying the ambience.

Its products are also priced almost similarly to those being offered by Starbucks and smaller competitors in the area.

Plus, Costa Coffee offers free WiFi. Now that is something for customers to be chuffed about.  Rappler.com

Shadz Loresco is a freelance business writer for both online and print. Follow her on Twitter: @shadzloresco.

$1 = P45.57