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UK coffee chains box clever with widening range of automated coffee solutions

The Automation Report UK 2023 is World Coffee Portal’s industry-leading analysis of the UK’s rapidly developing premium automated coffee market. It reveals the UK premium self-serve coffee segment grew 11% year-on-year to reach 20,771 units, with 46% of UK branded coffee chains now using super-automatic espresso machines in-store
  • The total consumer-facing premium vending and self-serve coffee market grew by more than 2,000 units (11%) over the last 12 months to reach an estimated 20,771 

  • Costa Express is the largest operator by units with 13,200 premium vending machines, ahead of Absolute Coffee (1,500 units) and We Proudly Serve Starbucks (1,100 units) 

  • Petrol stations are the most popular locations for premium vending machine coffee purchases, followed by convenience stores and supermarkets 

  • Poor maintenance and hygiene are two key factors in consumers not using premium vending machines, with 26% of customers encountering a machine they considered too unclean to use over the last 12 months 

A Lavazza premium vending machine in London, UK | Photo credit: Selecta


Costa Express commands largest share of the UK premium vending and self-serve market

The growth of the UK premium vending and self-serve coffee market has been led by Costa Coffee, which added more than 1,150 Costa Express units within the last 12 months to reach 13,200. Mainly located within petrol stations, supermarkets and convenience stores, Costa Express holds a 64% market share of the UK’s consumer-facing premium coffee vending machine network, which stands at 20,771 units.  

Manchester-based Absolute Coffee is the second largest operator by units having added over 250 to reach 1,500, ahead of We Proudly Serve Starbucks which grew by more than 100 units to reach 1,100. 

Petrol stations most popular venues for UK premium coffee vending units 

The majority (72%) of key UK coffee shop industry leaders surveyed consider the current trading environment for premium vending and self-serve operators as positive, with only 8% citing conditions as difficult. 

Petrol stations remain the most popular locations for premium vending machine coffee purchases (61%), ahead of convenience stores (48%), supermarkets (42%) and hospitals (22%). 

While 96% of UK consumers surveyed indicate that modern machines are easy to use and 71% say they are visually appealing, concerns remain about the cleanliness of units, particularly machines installed at third party locations. Forty-two percent of UK consumers attempting a premium vending coffee purchase over the last 12 months found the machine out of service, while 26% encountered a machine they considered too unclean to use. 

A We Proudly Serve Starbucks self-serve kiosk | Photo credit: Selecta

Demand for dairy alternatives set shape next generation of premium self-serve machines

A majority (77%) of UK premium vending and self-serve consumers surveyed emulate their coffee shop order when using a machine. As plant-based dairy alternatives gain traction across the UK branded coffee shop market, 76% of industry leaders surveyed state demand for dairy alternatives in premium vending machines as significant. 

Oatmilk is the preferred dairy alternative for a premium vending and self-serve machines for 50% of consumers. Inclination towards oatmilk was higher than the following four dairy alternatives combined – soya milk (14.4%), almond milk (13.7%), coconut milk (13.4%) and hazelnut milk (3.7%). Seventeen percent of consumers surveyed had ordered a premium vended beverage with a dairy alternative within the last 12 months. 

However, the risk of cross contamination and the provision of allergen information remain issues, particularly in older machines which lack the fridge space and mechanisms to keep dairy and non-dairy products separate.  

Consumers still value the human touch in coffee shops 

Advanced super-automatic espresso machine technology is closing the gap between the speed of service and consistency of coffee beverages produced by baristas and automated machines. More than 20 branded coffee chains in the UK currently use super automatic bean-to-cup coffee machines in-store, including Starbucks, Greggs and Pret A Manger. 

While super-automatic espresso technology is currently present in 46% of all UK branded coffee shops, 47% of consumers surveyed disagreed they would be open to a fully automated coffee shop experience – with many operators blending automatic technology while retaining barista control over milk frothing, steaming and handcrafting latte art. 

Commenting on the report findings, Allegra Group Founder and CEO Jeffrey Young said: “Given the need for convenience in coffee consumers’ busy lifestyles, it is very encouraging to see how the UK coffee industry is responding to this demand. Eleven percent annual unit growth is an impressive achievement in a highly challenging economic climate.”  

The Automation Report UK 2023 identifies the size of the UK premium vending market, in terms of units and growth rates, providing an in-depth strategic examination of the current retail environment. With over 2,000 online surveys with UK premium vending and self-serve coffee consumers and more than 100 in-depth interviews with leading industry insiders in the UK, the report provides a compelling analysis of key market topics and unpacks the key opportunities and potential future barriers to growth in the segment.

To purchase the report or to make an enquiry, contact:

Sam Shuckburgh, Commercial Partnerships 
 +44(0)20 7691 8800 

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