Big Interview: Titanic Brewery
When the Titanic Brewery began struggling to find sites to grow its traditional pub estate, it embarked on an expansion route that led it onto the café bar circuit – which resulted in a 15% uplift in coffee sales in its pubs. Coffee Business World editor Kate Oppenheim reports.
Titanic Brewery’s first Bod café opened in Stafford in April, with another two sites set to open in early autumn: one on Stoke station, in a converted first class lounge, and the other in a former NatWest bank in Trentham.
“It has been very difficult to find the right sites to grow our pub estate,” explains Keith Bott, who with his brother Dave set up the multi-award-winning Titanic Brewery in 1985. “It has been a case of the sites we’ve wanted haven’t been offered to us, or we’ve not been able to hit the right deal, so we started looking at alternative premises. There was this old Co-op, which ironically had previously been the last pub on the housing estate, and that’s where we created our first Bod - and we named it Bod as it was on Bodmin Avenue!”
Bott continues: “There are 4,000 houses on that estate and three schools, yet there was nowhere to go for a drink. We weren’t sure what kind of interest there would be, in terms of day-time teas and coffee, but we applied our usual rules of trade.”
Titanic, which operates eight pubs in its West Midlands' heartland, likes to use local suppliers, wherever possible. Chartley Coffee in Hixon supplies all the coffee, although the tea is currently from We are Tea in London, until a more local tea solution is found, while its crockery is from Stoke-on-Trent.
And the opening of new cafes doesn't spell a move away from pubs. More pubs are definitely on the cards, explains Bott, having announced three years ago its plans to have 20 sites by 2020 - but only when the right sites become available. As a brewer, he adds, it is all about “vertical integration” – in other words, outlets to promote and sell its craft ales. Titanic produces 3m pints of craft beer a year.
Beer – along with wine and spirits too - are very much part of the Bod offer, along with premium tea and coffee, and a simple ‘café-style’ food offer.
“We are getting a real mix of daytime customers from right across the social spectrum,” says Bott. “In the morning it’s the mums, while the builders come in for lunchtime. Everyone is having something different and in the evening it could be a beer, gin and tonic, or a cup of tea that’s served.”
Creating a ‘really good cup of tea (and coffee) has been crucial, says Bott. “There is nothing I hate more than being presented with a cup of hot water and a bag to make the tea yourself. It drives me mad, so we’ve invested in infusion cups, giving customers freshly brewed tea.”
Coffee supplier Chartley has also trained Titanic’s staff, and the Bod tea and coffee proposition has been rolled out into most of its pubs, with a resulting 15% hike in coffee sales.
Pricing too has been important part of getting the offer right.
“The local Co-op has a vending machine so we set out to sell our coffee 10p a cup cheaper. It was a conscious decision as we wanted customers to see us as good value for money,” says Bott.
For Titanic, the transition from craft brewer and pub operator to café owner has been a smooth one and Bott further believes that the café element will have positive knock-on effects for its pubs.
“It’s not been a completely new learning for us. A café has the same principles as a pub, which are to make sure people are comfortable and welcomed across all the various times of the day. To be honest, it couldn’t have worked out any better. In the evening it becomes more bar, while in the day it’s very much a café.”
He continues: “Pubs are having to adapt and get better at attracting customers – looking at what customers want and convincing them that pubs aren’t just about beer, but welcome everyone. Bod will help us convince people that our pubs aren’t just about beer either.”
A loyalty card system, which works across Bod and the pubs, will further help drive this message home.
“Stafford Bod is near our flagship pub and we are already seeing café customers using Bod in the day and heading out into town to our pub at the weekends. We are working to promote both brands, so that the mums who use the café will see our pubs being promoted and organise a night out to have a glass of wine.”
Judging by the online reviews and impressive 4.6*-rating, the Bod concept is gaining kudos: “Bringing the community together”… “Excellent interpretation of a community pub/café concept. Good array of refreshments available throughout the day”… “All-round much needed in a small community”… “Fabulous conversion of a dingy Co-op into a wonderful café/pub.”
The pub trade has long talked about embracing a more continental ‘café culture’, since licensing hours were relaxed in 2005. With Bod, the Titanic Brewery is really able to show its local communities how a café bar can be all things to all people.
Espresso Shot £2.40
Americano £2.50 / £2.70
Latte £2.60 / £2.80
Flat White £2.60
Decaf £2.70 / £2.90
Loose leaf teas served in an infuser £2.60 - £2.70