Costa gets tongues wagging with £10m taster

Costa Coffee has insured its top taster's tongue for £10m. Blatant PR stunt, by any chance?

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

High street coffee chain Costa has insured the tongue of its Master of Coffee Gennaro Pelliccia for an astronomical £10m. Lloyds of London broker Glencairn, which arranged the policy, said it showed ‘how valuable Gennaro's tongue is to the Costa brand’ – and since Pelliccia personally samples every batch of coffee beans Costa buys, the chain would argue that it has a big incentive to keep his tastebuds in good working order. But given that Costa’s coffee is not generally renowned for its stellar quality, the cynic might suggest that this more a publicity exercise than a piece of sensible contingency planning…

To put this into some kind of context, a policy of this size makes Pelliccia’s tongue one of the most expensive appendages in the world. Not quite as pricey as David Beckham’s legs, perhaps (or Michael Flatley’s for that matter, though let’s not dwell on that), but certainly way ahead of some other illustrious names. Glencairn suggested that: ‘the taste buds of a Master of Coffee are as important as the vocal chords of a singer or the legs of a top model’ – but on this valuation, his tastebuds are worth nearly three times as much as Bruce Springsteen’s voice and nine times as much as Heidi Klum’s legs. According to the Telegraph, they're also worth 40 times more than Egon Ronay’s palate. Surely some mistake?

‘In my profession, my taste buds and sensory skills are crucial,’ insists Pelliccia. ‘My 18 years of experience enable me to distinguish between thousands of flavours’, thus enabling him to ‘protect and guarantee Costa's unique Mocha Italia blend’. As far as Costa’s concerned, he’s clearly a key link in the supply chain, so it makes a lot sense for the company to protect such an important business asset. But this still seems like a suspiciously high sum, given that in our experience, coffee aficionados tend to place Costa only marginally above Starbucks when it comes to flavour...

However, Costa’s clearly doing something right. It’s one of the few high street chains that has managed to grow sales in the downturn, ascribing its success to the low price of its coffee. It already flogs over 100m cups of coffee a year worldwide, and it’s now planning to double its number of outlets in the next few years. Given the much-publicised travails of some its rivals lately – including Starbucks – perhaps Pelliccia is cheap at twice the price...

In today's bulletin:

FTSE hits six-year low as Lloyds sinks again
Bovis Homes cheers despite big loss
MT Special: Ted Turner on the new Depression
Costa gets tongues wagging with £10m taster
Sugaring the pill on apprentices

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