Food & Drink
Economic regeneration can take its inspiration from unusual sources. Coaltown Coffee owes its name and its ambition to the mining heritage of Ammanford in West Wales. The company’s founders are planning for a bright future thanks to this new kind of black gold.
When Scott James and his father Gordon set up their coffee roasting business in the garage of their family home in rural Carmarthenshire, few could have predicted the success they would enjoy. Two years on and Coaltown Coffee Roasters supplies 160 cafés, restaurants and shops across South Wales, and beyond. The father and son team are also grabbing the attention of national retailers, and even sell their toasted Arabica beans in Selfridges, the upmarket London department store.
“It’s been amazing and we are really lucky to have such loyal customers,” says 23-year-old Scott. Coaltown is named after the rich heritage of coal mining in the area around Ammanford, the town where the James family live. Once housed in the garage, the business is about to move into a 3,000 sq ft warehouse in the Carmarthenshire town.
“We are going to have a café on site, a tasting room and all the production and storage will be housed there,” Scott explains. “We’ll be able to offer tours, host training sessions for customers, and have roasting days, where customers can learn about the history of coffee and roast their own beans that they can take home.” There will be some food on the menu at the café, but Scott insists: “It’s all about the coffee.” The home-grown Welsh business currently has four staff, including Scott and Gordon. But the move will create a further 25 jobs in the café, on a beefed-up production schedule, and hosting tours of the new facility for a growing army of coffee connoisseurs.
There has been a lot of hard work to get to this stage, but Scott warmly praises the helping hand given by the Welsh Government. “They have been absolutely amazing, both with financial help and business support,” he says. “Welsh Government’s Food and Drink Wales has been brilliant by inviting us along to various events. I met Selfridges at a Food and Drink Wales event and through that we picked up their business. We’ve also had some funding from the Welsh Government, which has helped us to buy equipment.”
The young entrepreneur also has no doubts that Coaltown has benefited hugely from dealing with a devolved government in Cardiff.
“I think it’s easier because it brings the chain of command closer to you. It’s easier to speak to key decision makers in Wales, rather than having to go to somebody in Westminster,” he says.
The Coaltown boys spotted an opportunity to cash in on the growing popularity of coffee in Britain. There are more than 300 roasteries around the UK that contribute to the economy.
Allegra Strategies, a London-based consultancy, estimates there are 20,728 outlets selling coffee in the UK. The British coffee market notched up sales growth of 10 per cent in 2015 compared with the previous year and is now worth a massive £7.9bn. Jeffrey Young, managing director of the Allegra Group, points out: “With a market now valued at £7.9bn, no one can ignore the fact that coffee is big business.”
Scott explains that the rising tide of competition meant that Coaltown has to work harder to get noticed. But, he is convinced the new premises will help cement Coaltown Coffee, and Ammanford, in the hearts and minds of caffeine disciples. “You can buy almost anything you want on the internet these days,” he observes, “so in order to set yourself apart you have to offer people an experience.”