BB’s Coffee and Muffins is a place where teenage girls congregate, sipping cappuccinos eating cookies and catching up on the latest celebrity gossip. Meanwhile the odd ’suit’ pops in for a quick fumble through the newspaper, a fresh baguette and double espresso. It also offers a safe haven for the hard-core shopper - or the more mature lady - to catch their breath and get a sugar hit before re-entering the scrums of people searching for those all-important bargains in the sales.

BB’s Coffee and Muffins is the fifth-largest coffee chain in the UK and the leading shopping centre café operator in the UK and Eire. Its 155 stores provide fresh snacks and a selection of hot drinks, soft drinks, ice cream and smoothies. Muffins, the chain’s largest-selling bakery product, are mixed and baked in-store each day and the sandwiches are freshly prepared. The muffin mixes come from Dawn Foods and the added ingredients, such as fruit pieces and chocolate chips, come from wholesaler BFP.

"Our main competitive advantage," says Michele Young, general manager UK, "is that we bake muffins fresh every day. Over half of the people that come in buy muffins and 75% of these are female. People walking past the store catch the aroma, which entices them in. It’s all part of the theatre and, of course, fresh muffins taste much better.

"We are trying to educate our customers, by teaching them what a freshly baked muffin should taste like, with a crispy, plump top, yet moist and soft on the inside."

Muffin flavours include banana and pecan, blackberry and apple crumble, cappuccino, cherry and coconut, country style, coffee and walnut, cranberry and apple crumble, double chocolate, jam roly poly, maple & pecan, mixed berry, orange chocolate chip, St Clements, strawberries & cream, toffee apple and more. "It’s funny," says Young. "Different regions enjoy different flavours. In the north-east, consumers like coconut and cherry, while in the south they go for the low-fat muffin. In the Midlands they prefer the sticky toffee pudding and in Scotland they like the sultana and raisin."

BB’s believe that the way people tuck into a muffin says a lot about their personality. "We conducted an on-line survey and the most popular method is to ’start at the top’," says Young. "A third eat their muffin this way. We call these ’Muffin Magnets’. One out of five are ’Muffin Logicians’, they pull the top and bottom of the muffin apart and then take bites from both. Next are the ’Muffin Maniacs’ - 18% of our respondents simply dive in and pull the muffins to pieces, while others take theirs home and eat it warm or with custard. Fourteen per cent are ’Nibblers’ and the remainder eat from the bottom up - ’The Bottoms Up Brigade’.

"The survey taught us a lot about how to serve muffins. For example, in some stores, we can give people the choice whether to have their muffin heated up or with custard. We also give people the chance to take away a box of muffins - these account for 20% of sales - which are perfect for Friday afternoon in the office."


=== Did you know? ===

? Muffins sales were up by 5% last year in retail and 19% in foodservice

? BB’s Coffee & Muffins serves approximately 30,000 customers each day in 155 stores, selling 28 different flavours of muffin, with an additional ’muffin of the month’

? January’s ’muffin of the month’ was the low-fat muffin, less than 3% fat and 300mg per 100g of sodium

? BB’s has 155 stores and plans to open another 20 before the end of 2007

? BB’s puts over 24,000kg of chocolate chips and 24,000 apple pieces into its muffins each year, which is the equivalent to the weight of eight African elephants

? The biggest BB’s muffin eaters are the customers of cafés in Bluewater, Cheshire Oaks and Uxbridge

? Chocolate chip is the best-selling BB’smuffin, closely followed by Raspberry and Apple and

Sticky Toffee

? If BB’s stretched out all the 1.5 million baguettes it sells each year, it would reach from London to Liverpool

? Each year, customers drink the equivalent of one-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools full of coffee and buy 187,000 litres of ice cream a year

? The first BB’s café was opened in Maidenhead in 1997, so this year BB’s will celebrate its 10th anniversary in the summer

? BB’s brought out a rich strawberry-flavoured pink muffin for a breast cancer charity and, so far, has managed to raise £15,000

? BB’s recently held a BBC radio competition. The listener had to come up with their own flavour and Choco Berry Chuckle won