Big Interview: Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party’s (BTP) announcement that it’s to ban disposable cups became the 4th most read story on BBC News. This week, in the aftermath of its “mind-blowing” TV, radio, press and social media coverage, the Bristol-based chain of 21 coffee shops is getting down to the business of securing its £1m hot drinks’ take-away trade.
BTP’s ban, which will be introduced across all of its 21 coffee shops in the South West and the Midlands on June 1, follows months and years of discussions around the environmental impact of cups and a desire to make a stand against plastic (95.75% of plastic lined cups end up in landfill each year in the UK). Furthermore, the café chain hopes to assist and embolden other businesses to follow its lead to help drive a wholesale change in consumer behaviour in Bristol and beyond.
“We’re happy to share our model with other businesses to encourage them to follow us,” said Anita Atkins, BTP’s brand director, adding that she already spoken to one local business interested in finding out more. “It’s about encouraging change in behaviour in a city – we’d love Bristol to become the first city to be paper-cup free.”
Replacing the disposables will be Ecoffee’s reusable cup, made from sustainable bamboo fibre. BTP has invested £240,000 in buying three sizes of Ecoffee cups, which will be sold (or loaned, for a refundable deposit) to customers for £4.25 (8oz), £4.40 (12oz) and £4.75 (16oz).
The cups, which usually retail at £10.95 for a 12oz, are being sold at cost with 10p from every take-away hot drink sale being donated to local charities – 10p represents the saving the company is making by not buying and giving away disposables cups. This also presents further opportunities to engage with the community and promote what it’s doing.
In July 2016, BTP was among the first coffee chains to offer a 25p discount to any customers bringing in their own cup. However, with just a 2.8% take-up, it “wasn’t enough to make an environmental difference”.
Atkins continued: “The problem is that while some cups may be recyclable or compostable, the facts are that there aren’t many places to do this and the nature of the take-away cup means what happens to it once it leaves our premises is out of our control. If it’s put in the wrong waste bin, it contaminates the bins’ contents too and so we felt opting for a recycled or compostable cup was the wrong decision.
“We believe that re-useable is the only true sustainable option open to us as cups that can currently be recycled are ending up in landfill and in our oceans. We’re viewing recycling as the bare minimum.”
She continued: “There is risk to our business - £1m worth of take-away business is on the line – which is why we took the decision to press release our plans, as we wanted as many people to know about it as possible. The feedback has been unbelievable – getting home and seeing that we were the fourth best read news piece on BBC News seemed utterly ridiculous! We have been blown away by it all.
“Customers have been amazingly supportive too and the comments on social media have been brilliant – there have been 1,000s of likes and shares. A few concerns have been raised, but they have been more about people understanding how they’re going to get their coffee.”
This week the marketing campaign continues with social media posts and in-store posters among the tools driving the message out there to customers. “We want everyone to know what we’re doing to avoid anyone feeling embarrassed on the first day they come in to buy their coffee.
“It’s getting people into the mind-set, a bit like everyone has with supermarket shopping bags.”
For soft drink sales, which Atkins admits aren’t a big part of the business, they will be use a plant-based cup. They have already moved away from plastic water bottles, having switched to Bristol-based supplier Frank Water last year, after seeing its “brave decision” to stop selling its water in plastic. It uses paper bags for cakes and cardboard packaging for take-away salads, etc.
“Our financial director has forecast every possible scenario over the last few weeks and months to see what we could potentially lose. We know what the worst case scenario looks like. But we believe in our customers and their support for us in doing the right thing,” said Atkins, adding that the whole idea really took off last year when Frank Water decided to stop producing its water in plastic. “It cost them 35% of their business, but we were so inspired by their bravery that we started buying their water."
Other operators Coffee Business World spoke to said they'd be watching with interest, but none thought a ban would be right for their businesses, preferring to find compostable or recyclable alternatives to serve their take-away customers.