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Artisan or artificial: Is there room for the Big Four in the foodie movement?
10th Aug 2012
A little late to the party perhaps, it was revealed on Wednesday that Tesco now holds a 49 per cent share in an independent coffee house chain on the brink of a UK expansion. The news comes just a few weeks after Morrisons re-launched its in-store bakeries, introducing over 30 new lines including hand-dimpled Foccaccia, Sourdough Boule and Chocolate Twists.
After years of mega store expansions and value-driven price points, are the UK’s largest supermarkets looking to truly embrace more artisanal products, or is the foodie bandwagon about to see the Big Four take the wheel?
In the fiercely fought space race for supermarkets, Tesco’s 49 per cent share in new coffee chain Harris and Hoole will likely be a trend adopted across the board as big box stores wane in popularity. Run by Australian siblings Nick, Andrew and Laura Tolley, who set up London’s cult Taylor Street coffee houses in 2006, Tesco will hold a minority share in the company, although according to the Guardian, the supermarket’s company secretary Jonathan Lloyd and project manager Michael Holmes are named as directors on files at Companies House.
With its first shop due to open in Buckinghamshire later this month, ahead of a dozen-store roll out, the new investment is an ideal opportunity for Tesco to increase its hold on the high street, whilst cashing in on both the Antipodean coffeehouse and foodie movement seen to gain followers in the last five years.
As much as it is encouraging to see Tesco begin to invest in family run, localised companies, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that the retailer is merely keen to embrace the next foodie-fad. Morrisons wasn’t the only supermarket to re-launch its bakery range this year. In July, Tesco announced it would introduce a range of ‘artisan-style’ loaves to boost bread sales.
Speaking to press at the time, Nick Tatum, Tesco’s bakery director, said the company was looking to copy the look of an ‘artisan bakery’. Shoppers will be able to see bakers at work and the new bakeries will have wooden tables and chalk boards. However a spokesman confirmed the loaves will not be baked from scratch in store, but will be delivered part-baked for further cooking.
Again, it’s easy to see why Tesco would be so keen to embrace the independent, hand crafted legacy of artisan bread. Despite weak consumer confidence, Britons spent over £200 million on speciality bread last year. In fact, according to a report by the Daily Mail in March, the rise of artisan bread is thought to be directly related to a shift in the nation’s spending habits:
‘During the economic downturn, people are trading expensive cuts of meat for high-end loaves of bread. We want something luxurious without being too dear,’ says Peter Gialantzis, head of bakery for Whole Foods Market told the Daily Mail.
While upmarket grocers including Whole Foods, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have been embracing a ‘food hall’ market and artisan experience for a number of years, it remains to be seen whether mid to low-range grocers can convince shoppers and unsuspecting coffee lovers of their newly acquired foodie-focus.