The boss of Tesco has spoken out to defend the supermarket's stake in a coffee shop business, which appears to be independently owned.
Customers of Harris + Hoole – a chain of coffee shops popping up across London and the south east – reportedly feel duped by the pared-back indie brand image only to discover it is 49% owned by the supermarket giant.
Harris + Hoole, named after coffee-loving characters in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, has opened 10 coffee shops in and around London since August.
The chain was set up by Australian siblings, Nick, Andrew and Laura Tolley, with a vision to bring quality coffee to the high street.
Harris + Hoole haven't tried to hide Tesco investment, stating on their website that the supermarket made "a non-controlling investment in the new business to allow the Tolleys to realise their dream," yet the actual coffee shops paint a different picture with no indication of the Tesco backing.
Last week, the Guardian reported that many customers felt deceived by the brand. Some reported said they favoured supporting independent cafés over large corporate competitors such as Starbucks and Costa – so felt duped to discover that the seemingly independent Harris + Hoole is owned by high street giant Tesco.
In a blog post on Tesco's website yesterday, chief executive, Philip Clarke said that the business had burgeoned since its launch and that some outlets might be installed in Tesco stores in the future.
"We like backing great brands, helping them to grow and to realise their potential. We've done it with suppliers for years. Great ideas can find it hard to get backing these days, so we're pleased to be in a position to help entrepreneurs achieve their vision," Clarke said.
Clarke continued: "We invested in Harris + Hoole after meeting entrepreneur Nick Tolley and his siblings Andrew and Laura, who are passionate about great coffee. They were looking for a company which could back their vision to bring quality coffee to a wider audience and we were impressed with their energy and enthusiasm. We thought customers would love the coffee and the warm, friendly atmosphere of their shops, so we decided to invest."
Explaining why Harris + Hoole is not Tesco branded, he said: "The H+H brand is part of its value – its distinctiveness and appeal. It's the Tolley's business, their brand. Our investment helps them to take it further."
Clarke said H+H outlets would appear in Tesco stores "when the Tolleys are ready".