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Tim Horton launches new dark roast as part of chain’s plan to get back to basics

Unknown-2Tim Hortons is hoping the third time’s a charm as it rolls out its latest iteration of a dark roast coffee this week, a key part of the chain’s back-to-basics plan that will focus on its core offerings of coffee, doughnuts and breakfast in 2021.

It’s a strategy industry watchers say will help Tim Hortons shore up its existing market share while potentially attracting new customers in the increasingly competitive realm of grab-and-go breakfast.

The fast-food eatery is also overhauling its breakfast sandwich by adding fresh eggs and naturally smoked bacon, while promising to remove artificial colours, flavours and preservatives from all its menu items by the end of the year.

Yet observers say perfecting the dark roast coffee is the most important part of the chain’s menu improvements.

“The breakfast market has been competitive for many years and having the right dark roast coffee is key,” says Cyrus Cooper, a professor of restaurant management at Centennial College.

“Tim Hortons needs to ensure its dark roast is competitive in flavour profile to win over customers from competitors like Starbucks and McDonalds.”

The restaurant launched its first dark roast in 2014 in a bid to offer customers an alternative to its classic blend. Three years later, the chain tweaked the recipe of its new roast to make it even darker.

While the head of the chain’s coffee operations says it delivered on smoothness and flavour, he says it could be bolder.

“What we’ve noticed over the years is that guests are looking for a slightly bolder coffee,” says Kevin West, director of coffee operations for Tim Hortons.

The challenge, he says, was developing a bolder, fuller, richer coffee without any bitterness or burnt taste that can turn coffee drinkers off a dark roast.

“Coffee is naturally bitter, so to develop a coffee product that’s bold and strong without bitterness is quite difficult,” West said.

The coffee team at Tim Hortons developed the latest dark roast from scratch. They settled on a unique blend that features premium Arabica beans from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, in addition to the beans from Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil used in the chain’s original coffee.

“We started with amazing green beans,” he says. “Then we had to really hone in on the manufacturing and roasting process and also how we brew it.”

It took nearly four dozen coffee trials and 200 cuppings – the process of tasting the coffee – before the team landed on the new dark roast, West says.

The final tweak was a one degree increase in the temperature of the water in the coffee brewer, he says.

“It’s just a slight change but it made a significant difference in how the coffee performed with the final finished product,” West says.

The result is a flavour that is more complex than the previous two dark roasts, he says, with notes of chocolate and cedar and a hint of fruit or floral undertones.

“It’s a bolder, fuller and richer coffee,” West says.

Tim Hortons parent company Restaurant Brands International Inc. has seen its revenues slip during the pandemic, as COVID-19 disrupts daily rituals like going to work and taking kids to hockey.

Cooper says even post-COVID, competition for drive-thru customers will be fierce as some workers may only go to the office a few times a week.

But he says focusing on “bread and butter” basics like coffee, doughnuts and breakfast will help solidify the chain’s base of customers like commuters and hockey parents.

“Tims has realized which sandbox they’re playing in,” Cooper said. “Rather than lose touch with their customers and get too complicated, they’re focused on staying within their sandbox and knocking it out of the park.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.

 


Companies rush to pivot advertising plans during COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread, Tim Hortons reviewed its advertising plans and decided they no longer made sense as store closures, wide-scale layoffs and physical distancing upended life in Canada.

Instead, the coffee chain went back to the drawing board for two new ads. One informs customers how to buy doughnuts, double doubles and other products without going inside a restaurant, while the other follows Tim Hortons trucks delivering free coffee and doughnuts to essential workers.

“When we looked at what media we had committed to, we said: ‘There’s a better way,”’ said Hope Bagozzi, chief marketing officer at Tim Hortons.

Corporate spots acknowledging the pandemic have proliferated on TV breaks in recent weeks as companies grapple with how to fill previously purchased ad slots and what, if anything, they want to to say. How they proceed varies from brand to brand, but no one wants to risk appearing tone deaf during a national crisis.

“A lot of advertising – whether we want to admit it or not – is built on what has worked in the past,” said James Ansley, executive creative director at Grey Canada.

“It feels like right now, the rule book has been completely thrown out and we’re all trying to find our way through this.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Ansley saw companies do things that “felt a little bit … lacking in meaning,” such as spacing out their logos in a nod to physical distancing. McDonald’s Brazil, for example, separated its golden arches mid-March, but later reversed the decision after facing criticism.

Companies are now trying to do something meaningful, said Ansley, by trying to help people feel safe and secure.

Utilitarian ads are one such attempt.

Tim Hortons released one in late March with an employee explaining drive-thrus are open and that app and delivery partners are accepting orders.

That ad was designed as “an accessibility spot” to answer questions the company was receiving from customers, said Bagozzi.

It’s notable that such ads aren’t geared toward selling products.

Ford Canada, for instance, created an ad thanking workers, and closing with information on how customers leasing or financing vehicles through its credit program could receive help.

BMO ran an ad thanking “all the front-liners for keeping our lives moving” without mentioning any banking services. A&W created an ad with a similar message of gratitude to its restaurant staff, essential workers and everyday Canadians “staying home to help stop the spread” that doesn’t show anything more than the fast-food chain’s spokesman, presumably in his own home, with a partial logo visible on the wall behind him.

The company wanted the gratitude to be authentic, genuine and dominant, said CEO Susan Senecal.

“That’s how we felt at that moment in time and we just wanted to express that completely,” she said. “We didn’t think anything more was necessary.”

A&W scrapped its original plans in this “very unusual set of circumstances,” Senecal said, and decided a message of thanks worked better.

The brands Ansley works with have “taken the foot off the pedal as far as pushing product,” which he thinks is the right move as staggering numbers of people apply for emergency government assistance.

More than one million jobs disappeared in March, according to Statistics Canada, and the unemployment rate increased 2.2 percentage points to 7.8%.

“There’s a lot of people that are facing those realities,” Ansley said. “To go out with messaging that is tone deaf to that, I think, is completely wrong.”

Some brands have paused all their advertising in light of the pandemic, while others are trying to figure out if they have something to say, he said.

“I think really it’s just being true to your brand and your brand’s purpose.”

An example is a Dove Canada ad that presents a series of headshots of health-care workers, many of their faces showing indents from wearing their protective masks. The tagline “courage is beautiful” appears with the company’s logo and a list of donations the company is making to such workers.

The company’s long-running “real beauty” campaign bills itself as a movement challenging traditional notions of attractiveness.

“That’s what makes it really powerful,” said Ansley. “It’s timely. It is a beautiful message. But most importantly, it just stays true to who they are as a brand.”

Similarly, Tim Hortons showcased its corporate values with the footage of real employees offering coffee and doughnuts to health-care workers, said Bagozzi.

The company didn’t know how it would use the footage when it first gathered it in March, she said, but after seeing the reaction decided to share it broadly.

“There was just such a nice reciprocal generosity and gratefulness that we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so lovely. It’s so Canadian. We definitely want to share this.”

As the pandemic unfolds, it’s unclear what the future holds for advertising.

Tim Hortons ran a new ad recently offering a free pack of Timbits if customers spend at least $10. It’s intended as a nice gesture for families buying a meal, said Bagozzi.

The eatery is also looking at the activities it has planned for the rest of the year, especially the next few months, and asking what is most relevant and appropriate to be doing, she said.

The same can be said for A&W’s future advertising plans.

“As the situation continues to evolve, we’ll continue to think about what’s the most important thing to say next and try and do a good job of that,” said Senecal.


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Tims Hortons moves to drive-thru and take-out only

Tim Hortons parent company Restaurant Brands International Inc. says it is asking Canadian restaurant owners to provide take-out, drive-thru and delivery only in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The company said Monday it is closing all dining room seating at Tim Hortons effective Tuesday, March 17 and will continue the closures until further notice.

The change comes as governments across the country urge Canadians to engage in social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

Restaurant Brands acknowledged that Tim Hortons restaurants are gathering places for communities, but said the change was being made to contribute to social distancing that has been called for by public health officials.

“As Canada’s leading restaurant brand, we have a responsibility not only to serve guests – but to protect them during this uncertain time,” the company said in a statement.

It said if there are further instructions from public health officials it will take any necessary extra steps.

Following the lead of public health agencies, businesses have been moving to reduce contact among both staff and customers, and limiting non-essential travel.

Earlier Monday, clothing retailer Aritzia Inc. announced that it was closing all of its stores until further notice as businesses across the country move to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, though customers could continue to shopping through the company’s website for the time being.

Aritzia also said it was increasing precautionary measures to ensure the well-being of its concierge and distribution centre employees as well as shifting all support office employees to flexible working arrangements.

Aritzia has more than 95 stores.


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Tim Hortons pulls Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches from B.C., Ont. menus

Unknown-1Tim Hortons has pulled Beyond Meat products off the menus in the last provinces where it still sold the trendy plant-based protein, less than a year after a national roll out.

The coffee-and-doughnut chain will no longer sell Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches in Ontario and B.C., said Sarah McConnell, a spokeswoman for parent company Restaurant Brands International.

“Ultimately, our guests choose to stay with the meat option in their breakfast sandwiches,” she wrote in an email.

The company first piloted the plant-based offering in May. Select locations added three Beyond Meat breakfast menu items and based on consumer demand, the company said it hoped to roll them out nationally by summer’s end.

In mid-June, Tim Hortons added two Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches and one wrap to menus at almost 4,000 of its Canadian locations. About a month later, the chain announced its first burger offering with two Beyond Meat burgers nationwide.

In September, the company pulled the burgers from all locations, but said it would still sell the plant-based protein breakfast sandwiches in Ontario and B.C. thanks to a “positive reaction” from customers.

That enthusiasm eventually waned.

“We will keep an item on the menu if it’s favoured by our guests,” wrote McConnell. “In this case, we did not see enough demand to keep it as a permanent item.”

RBI CEO Jose Cil referenced the products as “a limited-time offer” in an October conference call with analysts _ about a month after the company scaled back Beyond Meat availability.

A Beyond Meat spokeswoman did not respond to emailed questions, but sent a one-line statement.

“We partnered with Tim Hortons on a limited time offer. We are always open to collaborating with our partners and may work with them again in the future,” Emily Glickman wrote in an email.

Other chains have seen greater success with alternative-protein items as consumers, including those who eat meat, flock to plant-based proteins for health, environmental and animal welfare reasons.

A&W became the first national restaurant chain to serve Beyond Meat patties in July 2018. Initial demand outstripped supply and the fast-food chain temporarily ran out of stock.

The burger chain has since added a plant-based nugget to its menu for a few weeks, and CEO Susan Senecal has said demand for the veggie burgers has “stayed remarkably stable” since the launch.

Tim Hortons doesn’t seem to be shutting the door completely on the trend.

“We will continue to explore plant-based options as part of our regular menu innovation pipeline,” McConnell wrote.

“But there is nothing new planned for the restaurants in the immediate future.”