The high street looked very different in 1994, when a coffee trader and a buyer joined forces in a garden shed to hand-roast beans and create their own blends.
Starbucks was yet to enter the UK, Costa Coffee had fewer than 40 stores and Caffè Nero did not even exist. Lincoln & York, which sources, roasts and packs 8,000 tons of coffee a year, has helped fuel the extraordinary growth in coffee shops across the UK and Northern Europe.
Founded by Simon Herring, 53, and James Sweeting, 48, it supplies hundreds of private-label coffee blends across Europe, and claims that its coffee is sold in at least one shop on every British high street. Customers include coffee-shop chains, independent outlets and specialist retailers.
Its 50,000 sq ft headquarters in Lincolnshire houses the UK’s largest coffee roaster — a 600kg custom-built machine from Italy — which has helped support its expansion overseas. It opened a sales office in Poland last year, its first outside the UK, and its other big markets include Holland, Ireland, France and Denmark.
Sourcing beans from 40 locations across the world, including Brazil, Colombia and Kenya, has allowed it to develop custom blends for its customers at competitive prices. This, as well as following its UK customers into new European markets and regularly attending trade fairs, helped boost exports to £7.2m in 2017.
Sweeting, the managing director, plans to increase overseas sales, which currently account for 20% of revenue, to 50% by 2023, by continuing to target Poland and Northern Europe.
With the speciality coffee market booming, and quality more important than ever, the company has employed four in-house coffee tasters, each trained for three years, who taste a combined 200 coffees a day.
In April, it launched a cold brew coffee called Black Eye, which it hopes will become a staple for bars, restaurants and cafes across Europe.
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