“It’s like orange squash and orange juice, they’re both called orange but that’s pretty much where the similarities end,” says Paul Meikle-Janney, managing director of coffee consultancy, Coffee Community. “Instant coffee and fresh coffee are different products. Each has its own place in the market but that place is narrowing when it comes to instant and that is as it should be.”
But instant still accounts for 77% of the coffee Brits buy to drink at home, according to market research specialists Mintel. In Italy it accounts for just 1%, in France 4% and 7% in the US. The UK market for coffee at home is growing and is now worth in excess of £1bn annually. Instant has lost market share recently but still dominates over the likes of ground coffee and beans.
It’s the Americans who are largely credited with giving the UK the stuff. It came over in the ration packs of US troops during World War Two. For a nation of coffee drinkers it was a temporary solution to not having a freshly brewed “cup of Joe”. For a nation of tea drinkers it was something new and exciting and caught on.
It’s shunned in cafe culture. “It’s simply not acceptable in any commercial or catering environment,” says Meikle-Janney. But, as figures show, things are different in many British homes. Author Philip Hensher is a fan, calling it a “little piece of everyday private magic“. “Private” being the operative word for those who hide their jar at the back of the kitchen cupboard. So what’s the appeal? Simple – it’s quick and easy, says Meikle-Janney. Granules, hot water, a dash of milk if that’s how you take it, job done. “Convenience is the product’s main strength but that won’t last as freshly-brewed coffee is now much quicker and easier to make at home.”