SSP opens renovated Starbucks at Heathrow

By Benedict Evans |

The renovated Strarbucks at Heathrow Terminal 5 is the flagship UK store for SSP and its partnerships with the coffee brand.

TRBusiness was on location as SSP Group announced the renewal of its flagship Starbucks store at Heathrow Airport, its busiest in the UK across both travel retail and domestic.

The 252sq ft, 50-seat store can pump out an estimated 700 coffees hourly (roughly 200,000 per week), and features two separate counters, aided by Starbucks’ online pre-order service.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by Kari Daniels, CEO UK and Ireland for SSP, Patrick Coveney, Group CEO for SSP, Duncan Moir, President EMEA for Starbucks, and Fraser Brown, Retail Director for Heathrow.

“This new store at Terminal 5 is our flagship Starbucks at the country’s flagship airport,” noted Daniels, adding: “The customer journey and efficiency are at the heart of our operations…we’ve also ensured the store is future-proofed to manage growing customer numbers in the future.”

Though not a hybrid F&B/retail store in the strictest sense, the renovated Starbucks does offer merchandise such as cups and keychains, and features a revamped summer menu.

I was able to taste the most prominent of these new drinks in a detailed walkthrough from Barbora Sládková, Marketing Campaign Specialist at Starbucks and a former winner of its internal Barista Champion contest.

SSP look-ahead

Both Coveney and Daniels spoke to TRBusiness in some detail about the potential – and potential limits – of hybrid concepts, both within the UK and globally.

“While there is a place for beverage and grab-and-go foods within our business model, and large elements of that are retail, there’s quite a step beyond to go into luxury retail and duty free, and we don’t do that,” noted Coveney.

Tailored to differing demographic preferences- primarily Gen Z and Millenials – the beverages range from matcha-inspired, foam-heavy concoctions, to cold-brew, cookie-covered coffees, custard-based, and even strawberry-laced.

“By all the data we have on travellers, the vast majority of customers think differently about those propositions as well. I’m not saying there’s no consumer case whatsoever for a hybrid store, but I think the actual consumer demand for hybrid stores generally wouldn’t merit the capital expenditure required,” added Coveney.

Speaking from a UK specific position, Daniels had a different stance on hybrid concepts, viewing the UK as both a mature and growth market with immense opportunity for hybridisation.

“From a market point of view there’s massive headspace in aviation. Rail is obviously a little different due to rail strikes and such, but we’re seeing a real shift in customer behaviour, and shifting consumption patterns there,” noted Daniels.

Take brands like our Café Local, where we’ve added health and beauty, travel accessories, and a better offer in terms of food, it’s a great example of retail meets F&B in a small footprint.”

Daniels noted a conceptual shift from the hybridisation of concepts (retail/F&B) to that of brands is where the magic lies: “It gives the brands critical mass and works to build awareness. Hybridisation of retail and F&B is one thing, but the hybridisation of brands is another.”

Labour landside

The Starbucks opening at Heathrow coincided with a pivotal day in the UK national calendar – election results day.

With the electoral battle seeing Labour emerge as prominent victors, its manifesto made relatively little of its plans for the aviation sector, but prominent voices within aviation and the travel retail industry have already begun lobbying the hours-old government for changes across the sector.

Marco Passoni, Senior VP at 2.0 & Partners, provided TRBusiness with the following comment regarding the UK election results: “Now we have a new UK government, it is time to talk once more about putting an end to the UK’s damaging Tourist Tax.

The numbers on this matter speak for themselves; the loss of tax-free shopping is costing the economy £10.7bn every year and turning 2 million tourists away from our shores.”

A notable day for SSP, Starbucks, and Heathrow, the latter of which will be looking to the new UK government for answers on enhancing the growth of UK aviation.

Passoni added: “To keep this devastating policy in place would be madness. We cannot afford for the UK’s future and recovery to be stunted by a short-sighted and ill-conceived plan which has backfired so clearly and is now doing real harm to the country’s finances and global standing.”

When asked for comment on the election results, Brown, who was present at the Starbucks ribbon-cutting, noted: “We have pre-engaged with the Labour front bench and concurrently with the [old] Conservative government.”

Brown further pointed to the necessity of its agnostic political approach, and of Heathrow itself as a major contributor to the UK economy: “We’re the largest port in the United Kingdom by value. Sitting on an aircraft, underneath your feet is: smoked salmon; microchips; currency; jewellery – we are the real engine of the UK economy.

We will engage any government to make sure its policies are supportive of the economy, focus on airspace modernisation, and of course tackle things like tax-free shopping on arrival.”

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