Fair Trade in Coffee?

Three words that will strike fear into the heart of local coffee shops: the myWaitrose card. As customers have already found out, the myWaitrose card offers customers a free coffee to drink in or take away without even having to purchase anything.

It appears to be every shopkeeper’s nightmare; how will local businesses compete? Surely, there will be little point in going into town to spend £2.50 on a coffee?

Oundle is not the only town concerned about Waitrose freebies. Garry Sutherland from Buckingham reported Waitrose to the Office of Fair Trading, claiming that the supermarket’s free drinks were affecting his business, a mere 18m from the supermarket. Mr Sutherland claimed a £200 weekly loss in Gelateria Gazzeria sales, and a 40 percent drop in coffee sales. He said that the Waitrose scheme represents “unfair trading”.

In October Dean Sandy from Bristol set up an online petition on change.org against Waitrose’s free coffee. One hundred signatures from across the country had been gathered in just one month.

Emma Porter from Norwich commented: “As a small business myself I would not want this to effect anyone”.

From Leicester, Phil Kemp wrote: “Large companies taking away trade from small businesses will ruin the character of small towns which are a joy to visit and may not continue being a joy if they have no centre/ trade/ people”.

Sarah Richmond from Redditch added: “Have myself owned, and my sister now owns a small coffee shop, we cannot compete with massive companies and it impacts greatly upon our livelihood that they give away produce for free”.

Locally, there has been outraged debate from Oundle residents, vented publically on Twitter. @Oundleunderpan1 said: “Giving away free coffee and papers blatant attack on local traders”.

@theseeker905 agreed: “Is it right for the Oundle store to give away free papers & drinks in a blatant attempt to compete with our high st shops?”

The digital manager @waitrose tweeted its corporate response: “Hi. Most businesses have loyalty schemes. Trains & planes offer complimentary newspapers and coffee, as do garages and hotels.”

Allegiances are quickly being formed. @swearyshau said: “I am currently refusing to use Waitrose Oundle”, while @oliverjmoore defended the value of choice: “I regularly buy bread from Oundle News, am I being disloyal to Cookies?”

In the end, however, it’s the quality of the product that will determine the success of the scheme, and for some it is a non-starter: “Waitrose coffee is terrible,” said @_no_mad.

By Alexandra de Stanford Wallitt