The popular Waitrose scheme that gives complimentary hot drinks to loyalty card holders has been accused of putting independent coffee shops on the brink of closure.
Cafes dotted around the Home Counties - where the supermarket chain is so popular – have reported a significant reduction in profits since nearby branches of the supermarket began giving away free drinks to myWaitrose card holders over a year ago, and many are worried they may soon be forced to close.
Hazel Jarvis, who owns Café 119 in Nailsea, Somerset, described the effects from the Waitrose directly opposite her premises as an “absolute nightmare”. She estimates she is losing over £100 a day to the supermarket’s in-branch cafe.
Despite cutting staff, offering deals, changing opening hours and dropping stock orders, Ms Jarvis fears she may have to close the shop. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it in 25 years,” she said. “I’m only just paying my rent and the girls’ wages. I’m so worried."
Paul and Shirley Barter, who own the Asante coffee shop in Eastleigh, Hampshire, have reported a reduction in profits of a third since the giveaway began and spoken to management at the nearby store.
"They were sympathetic and understand our plight, but as it is a company policy, there was little they could do," Mr Barter said. "We rely a lot on passing trade, even though we do have a strong loyal customer base."
Mr Barter said coffee accounts for up to 50 per cent of their sales and, if customers continue to get their free drinks from Waitrose instead, they could be forced to close.
"They're out to make as much profit as they can, and they don't want to do much to help."
And Garry Sutherland, who owns Gelataria Gazzeria in Buckingham, estimates that he has lost around 30 per cent of his coffee business to the supermarket giant. He has complained to the Office for Fair Trading, who said they are not intending to look into the matter further. "Small businesses all across the UK are suffering horribly from this unethical campaign," he said. He intends to appeal this decision, and make a case to the Competition Tribunal.
A spokesperson for Waitrose said: "Waitrose always aims to work in harmony alongside local businesses. We are often told that having one of our shops helps other traders because it attracts additional shoppers.
"Most businesses offer customers loyalty schemes. There is nothing new in what Waitrose is doing. These offers are only available to members of myWaitrose, who do a large proportion of their grocery shopping with us."