One of the most controversial subjects to rear its head recently in the coffee-lover’s world is that of the big-name chain store. As far as some are concerned, names like Starbucks represent the very antithesis of what good coffee and coffee culture on the whole are all about. By contrast, there are also huge swathes of the coffee crowd that insist it’s none other than these big chains that we have to thank for expanding our horizons and bringing the good stuff to everyone.

It’s the kind of debate that’s likely to continue for some time, but if one recent survey from global market research agency Synovate is anything to go by, it’s actually the former of the two groups that’s in the minority. Yes, for all the brand-bashing that happens on so many High Streets every day, it seems the world as a whole has embraced the big-name coffee giants and is glad we have them.

A Worldwide Consensus?

The survey took into account the thoughts and opinions of nearly 6,000 coffee drinkers based in Australia, Morocco, Serbia, Singapore, the UK, the US, Hong Kong, Brazil and France. And when the results were tallied, it showed that no less than 76% of those polled were 100% in favour of big-name global coffee chains.

Or as the survey put it, they believed that “large multinational coffee chains are good because they expand choices for consumers”.
However, what came across as even more interesting than the seemingly clear global consensus on the matter was that there is in fact no global consensus at all. Achieving the ideal balance of both quality and morality turned out to be every bit as tricky as expected in some regions, with around 28% of those polled stating that the bigger coffee chains actually harm local culture.

Little Vs Large

Topping the bill in terms of support for big-name coffee chains were the folks of Morocco, of whom a full 74% insisted that the coffee they can pick up from the bigger-boys is better than that served up by local businesses. Taking the silver-place position was Hong Kong, where approximately half of all respondents said the same – big-name coffee is better than the java served up by the little guys.

But it’s then that things take a notable slide as when you look at the results of the American part of the study, just 14% said they preferred big-name coffee shops to smaller, local businesses. And this fell even further with the Australians polled, of whom just 11% said they’d rather hit a branded store than a local coffee shop. It’s of course nothing new to hear of modern Western markets being all about supporting local businesses and championing the underdog, but it’s still interesting to note the way in which huge multinational chains are being embraced in other markets.

In terms of harming local culture, there’s a curious paradox to note when it comes to the findings of the report. While Morocco may be the country that’s apparently more in love with coffee chain stores than any other, they’re also the folks that feel most strongly opposed to them in a moral sense. Hong Kong by contrast was almost at the bottom of the table in this respect, with no more than about 10% feeling big-name coffee shops were and are negatively impacting local culture.

"Asians don't have the almost automatic negative reaction to big business that Westerners seem to have,” wrote Jill Telford, managing director of Synovate Hong Kong.
“They are much more accepting and tolerant of big companies. Perhaps this finding says more about the West than about Asia."

And as for Serbia’s equally low opposition to the big boys muscling the little boys out of the market, Synovate’s Milica Vulicevic said it all came down to the international ideals of High Street morality not having yet landed in the country.

"Serbia has suffered so much conflict that people don't have time or space in their heads to think about environmental or sustainable issues – apart from clusters of intellectuals living in urban centres,” she said.

“The concept of large multinational coffee chains negatively impacting on local cultures is not the sort of thing people read, listen to or talk about in general."

Or in other word, they’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Starbucks Stands Out

As far as specific brands of interest go, it came as no real surprise to learn that both the US and Hong Kong singled out Starbucks quite convincingly. And when polled about where to head for a fast coffee of excellent quality, the somewhat sizeable brand once again scored well with the people of Singapore and the UK.

Interestingly…and for reasons that aren’t yet clear…only 2% of French respondents highlighted Starbucks as their outlet of choice for an instant ready-to-go coffee. Instead, they said they preferred local businesses and cafes that didn’t belong to any specific chain. Serbia’s preference headed the way of Nescafe with approximately 40% of votes, while 32% of Australians said that Gloria Jean topped the table in their books.

More Than Just a Drink

The stats may say a lot for the coffee drinking preference of a fair few global markets, but the survey also set out to discover a little more about what coffee culture means in international circles. It’s all become a little cliché in the West thanks to the great American sitcom, but there’s really no denying that coffee culture isn’t just alive, it’s flourishing globally.

For example, almost four in every five respondents said their choice of coffee purchase premises would be influenced by the atmosphere of the place.

What’s more, the vast majority in France, Morocco and Serbia all stated that when they go out for a coffee, the social experience is way more important than the coffee or anything it’s served with.

Just to wrap up on one particularly interesting note, the USA – aka the birthplace of modern coffee culture in the eyes of most – only agreed with the above sentiment to the tune of 14%.