Insights from ‘The Flat White Economy’

“The “flat white economy” – named after the coffee popular with young workers – of media, internet and creative businesses, will push London’s cumulative growth rate over the next five years to 15.4pc, more than any other UK region, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).” The Telegraph, 2015

I’ve recently been doing some research about the ‘Third wave‘ of coffee in the UK, and I came across the term the ‘Flat White Economy’ in this article from the Guardian which broadly considers the economic importance of hipsters in London.

Flat White EconomyThe term refers to something discussed in a new book, The Flat White Economy by Douglas McWilliams, Chairman of the Centre for Economics and Business Research,  provides a commentary on some of the activities of the younger generations in London and the growth of the digital economy in the capital. Named after the supposed favourite drink of this digital oriented hipster generation in London I thought  I should read it to see if there are any insights into views on the cafes that provide said milky caffeinated beverages. It’s a quick read (I managed to get through it on a return journey to Sheffield), and is an interesting, if somewhat brief commentary on the growth of the digital economy in London, as well as implications for those involved, and for other cities with emerging digital economies.

‘The most characteristic service businesses in the Flat White Economy are the coffee shops’. McWilliams (2015: 55)

The industry providing these flat whites is addressed, albeit briefly, and hints at some of the societal changes that are affecting the cafe industry. With increasing sales in coffee shops, coffee is named as the ‘new beer’ with the suggestion that cafes have to some extent taken over the social role formerly filled by pubs. The book draws on the consultancy reports produced by Allegra Strategies on the cafe industry, who estimate that the coffee shop market will achieve a turnover of £8 billion by 2017.What McWilliam’s highlights is the how the cafe has become a space that ‘Flat Whiters’ frequent as hubs of creativity, encouraged by free wi-fi, places to sit, meet people, and work as and when needed. There is also an interesting piece of analysis drawing on the work of McWilliams’ colleagues from Cebr which shows a strong correlation between the number of independent coffee shops per hectare in London compared with Flat White economy jobs per hectare’ (see page 58 of the book). I’ll be exploring some of the drivers of growth of the cafe industry, and the importance of cafe spaces for different groups, like the ‘Flat Whiters’ in some upcoming articles.








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