An Aspiring but Virtual Woodburner

I was listening to Radio 4 this morning http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21227449  when they were talking about how classifications of people have been changing: previously you could tell a lot about someone by their class, ie where they got their money from, whereas now there’s a move to summing people up based on how we all spend our money.

Consumed: How Shopping Fed the Class System argues that our coffee consumption is inextricably linked to our identity. The author of the book, Harry Wallop, used the example of coffee shops to demonstrate his theory. Despite the recession, coffee shops are thriving and he argued that this was because going out for coffee is a public display of where we are socially and the messages we want to send out about ourselves. He looked at three distinct market segments: those people going to MacDonald’s; those going to Costa Coffee; and those choosing to sip their caffeine at more quirky independent coffee shops, ie they don’t want to be associated with high street or international brands. Apparently this last segment are called ‘woodburners’ as a way of summing up life-style choices.  And I would add keeping money in the local economy would probably be another reason for shopping at independents.

As I can’t remember the last time I had coffee at MacDonald’s, and I was an early boycotter of Starbucks (more than 10 years), I can certainly see where he is going with his argument – ie I’m actively making choices based on my lifestyle and values.  Wherever possible I choose to go to local cafes but I  do go to Costa’s when there are no independent coffee shop in sight, however. So the cheering element I took from his theory, is that us ‘woodburners’ are recognised for our buying power – that there must be enough of us to start having an impact on high streets, although if people don’t like being branding they may well resist the category –  ironically.

In reality I don’t have a woodburner alas, although if I had it may have only added to my carbon foot print guilt given the recent news that the byproducts of soot (or black carbon) from burning wood is a major factor in climate change: www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21033078  So I remain an aspiring, but virtual, woodburner.

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