Wayne’s Coffee CEO, Mats Hörnell spoke to us about his chain is popularising Nordic coffee culture and why keeping coffee cosy is central to the firm’s global expansion plans.
(Words by Tobias Pearce)
The growl of the grinder, the clack of the doser, the rush of the shot and the slam of the knock box – we’re all used to fast-paced coffee shop culture, especially when dashing for our morning caffeine fix. But there’s a slower paced café percolating through Europe, where coffee is slowly savoured, cosily, with friends.
In Denmark they call it hygge, to Norwegians it’s koselig, and when the Finnish drink in their underwear, they call it kalsarikannit. But you won’t get very far in Sweden without stumbling across fika. Though a direct translation is somewhat enigmatic, the Nordic concept of cosy, relaxing togetherness – with a hint of indulgence – is central in the region’s coffee shop culture.
In fact, Nordic countries comprise five of the top ten coffee consuming countries per capita in the world. Coffee forms an essential social function in these northern-climbs, where dark winter days bring people together to enjoy hot beverages and food in warm, relaxing environments.
With around 130 stores worldwide, one coffee shop chain is on a mission to bring fika to the masses. And as it turns out, the concept of Nordic cosy togetherness is far more ubiquitous than we may think. “When we are out in the world meeting people in new markets, we talk about Swedish ‘fika’ and at first no one understands.” says Mats Hörnell, CEO of Wayne’s Coffee. “But in each and every market, once we start to explain they say; ‘Of course we have fika! But here we call it something different’.”
Founded in Stockholm in 1994, Wayne’s Coffee was an early adopter of organic, ethically sourced coffee. Today it’s one of the world’s few large coffee chains to promote an entirely organic coffee range that is also Rainforest Alliance and KRAV certified. It’s been a big year for the Swedish chain, which in February 2018 was acquired by German food and beverage firm, Tank & Rast Group. Together, they’ve been embarking on an aggressive international expansion for Wayne’s Coffee, opening in new markets outside Europe, including Jordan and Vietnam. Today they operate more than 130 stores globally and recently expanded to the UK with two London stores. In Germany, a market Hörnell says is brimming with opportunities for coffee chains, Wayne’s Coffee now operates three stores.
Hörnell, who has been CEO of Wayne’s Coffee since the acquisition but with the company for over six years, is now at the forefront of the coffee shop’s efforts to make the world savour coffee like a Swede. “We don’t have any customers, we only have guests,” he says. “Of course, a quick coffee is welcome in our stores, but we want to be a meeting place where people can sit down and take their time – it’s a totally different way of drinking coffee. Our stores aren’t cramped with small spaces, they’re comfortable. We use soft fabrics to create an inviting environment and a customised experience.”
The culture of casual, cosy coffee shops is nothing new in Sweden and the Nordic nation is renowned for its adoption of sustainable and ethical principles. From its switch to district heating in the 1990s, which now accounts for more than 80% of apartment block heating, to early renewable energy adoption, and widespread focus on locally sourced produce, Sweden is often touted as one of the world’s most sustainable countries.
“It’s more a hygiene factor for companies in Sweden to be organic and look after the environment when they’re doing business,” explains Hörnell. But one of the biggest challenges for Wayne’s Coffee as it expands internationally is scaling sustainable and ethical operations to regions where these principles aren’t so ubiquitous. “It’s very, difficult in some countries to source organic products and get the same level as in Sweden”, says Hörnell. “We ship things from Sweden, and the rest we pursue aggressively with our local partners, who are key to the process.”
So, whether it’s 100% Robusta coffee for the Vietnamese market, or cheese-topped waffles in Norway, Wayne’s Coffee is making the global case for fika and putting cosy, relaxing coffee shop experiences firmly on the map. As for 2019, Hörnell says there are “tremendous opportunities” in the European coffee shop market as his firm aims for significant expansion – and perhaps we could all do with a dose of Swedish coffee culture to cure those mid-winter blues.