Inside an Esquires coffee shop in Brackley

Source: Cooks Coffee Company

Franchise chain operator Cooks Coffee Company has unveiled ambitions to more than quadruple its Esquires Coffee estate in the UK and Ireland to reach 305 shops by 2035.

The company, which is dual listed on both the Aquis Market in London and the NZX in New Zealand, currently operates 64 stores in the UK and 16 in Ireland – it placed 20th in British Baker’s Bakery Market Report 2024. New openings over the past two months include in Colliers Wood and Pinner in London, Newport in Wales, and Sudbury in Suffolk.

Cooks Coffee revealed it was targeting shop totals of 80 and 18 in the UK and Ireland, respectively, by the end of March 2025, and would continue to add roughly 25 new locations across the two markets each year to ensure it hits the 300-mark.

The Esquires brand has a strong pipeline of opportunities as it continues its commitment to building an ethical café group with great cafes owned and run by local people, stated the company.

Cooks Coffee had previously been “seeking to acquire synergistic businesses” to help scale up its UK business, which at the time also included the Triple Two Coffee chain. The subsidiary was placed into voluntary liquidation last September, with 20 sites located around central business districts deemed non-viable in a post-Covid market.

Having acquired Triple Two in 2020, Cooks said it has now fully written off its investment in its previous half year accounts, with negative equity of £1.9m (NZ$4m) reported in its preliminary results for the year ended 31 March 2024.

“We have an exciting growth pathway clearly defined”

Esquires sites, however, were said to be sheltered from permanent shifts in consumer behaviour (such as the work-from-home lifestyle change) thanks to their suburban and smaller town focus. The brand helped Cooks Coffee post UK sales growth of 21%, up to NZ$18.5m from the NZ$15.3m recorded in FY23, which it noted was more than double the industry growth average of 9%.

Positioning itself as ‘the local chain’ has proven successful for the Esquires brand according to Cooks Coffee, highlighting its strategic direction as well as a focus on organic coffee products and an enhanced food offering with local sourcing where possible. The sample menu on its website features the likes of Cumberland sausage roll, eggs benedict, smoked salmon bagel, and ham & cheese toastie, while a range of limited-edition sourdough sandwiches have been introduced for the summer season.

“We are delighted to report strong sales growth across our existing estate of coffee stores as we continue our expansion programme of new store openings,” commented Keith Jackson, executive chairman of Cooks Coffee. “We have an exciting growth pathway clearly defined and have Aiden Keegan appointed to drive the future development of the business. Aiden is uniquely qualified for the role having spent 14 years as operations manager of the Irish business and the last almost six years as CEO of Esquires Coffee UK,” he added.

The company has also recently hired two new regional developers to help accelerate growth in the North of England and Southwest and South Wales regions, after other regional developers had delivered strong performances elsewhere. Developers for Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently being sought, stated Cooks Coffee.

Founder and Irish managing director Tony McVerry has announced his intention to retire in June after 25 years with the firm, to be replaced by former Starbucks executive Brendan Duigenan. As part of plans to relocate the board to the UK, independent director Mike Hutcheson is also set to retire in June.

Starbucks has also revealed its plans for 100 new UK stores in 2024, Gail’s Bakery is aiming to open 35 new sites across the UK this year, and Paris Baguette has targeted 200 UK shops by 2036.