If you want to get a double double from Tim Hortons’ newest locations, you’ll have to get in the queue. Know what I mean, guvnah? Canada’s iconic coffee chain is expanding to the UK, opening in Glasgow this week in the first of what promises to be many locations on the other side of the Atlantic.
But while the stores will look the same and stay true to the company’s core offering—medium roast brewed drip coffee served no more than 20 minutes after brewing—and it’s promoting the launch with local Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram feeds, critics are saying “Tims” will be hard-pressed to attain anything near the level of success it enjoys in Canada.
So, anything less than complete and utter domination should be considered a failure? Tim Hortons is a retail monster on its home turf—where it is celebrating Canada’s looming 150th birthday with patriotic mugs—so a fraction of the UK coffee business will do quite nicely, thank you.
Tim Hortons has become part of Canada’s cultural fabric, thanks to a combination of a population largely addicted to caffeine and its ever-present connection to hockey. In addition to being founded by long-time National Hockey League player Tim Horton, the company sponsors “Timbits” hockey for young boys and girls across the country and free ice-skating in the winter and even employs superstar Sidney Crosby as a spokesman.
It has all contributed to near-monopoly success where, despite the presence of Starbucks and others, Tim Hortons pours approximately eight out of every 10 cups of coffee sold at retail in Canada.
— Tim Hortons UK (@timhortonsuk) May 29, 2017
But moving into a region known for tea in the afternoons and pub crawls in the evenings is far from a sure thing. Indeed, the welcome on social media and the UK tabloids has been far from universally warm. “Welcome to the world of weak coffee!” bellowed a headline in The Daily Mail.
Taste trends, however, are moving in the right direction. According to market research firm Mintel, the UK’s retail coffee market is on a caffeine-induced high, growing from just £137 million in 1997 to £3.4 billion by 2016, including a £1 billion hike since 2011 alone. It’s projected to reach £4.3 billion by the end of 2021.
Known for its wide array of sandwiches, donuts and “Timbits”—little balls of fried dough representing the donut hole—Tim Hortons has expanded its menu to appeal more to the British palette, adding chai lattes and an espresso drink called a “flat white” (which another Commonwealth country claims as its own). Some sandwiches will be served on a brioche bun instead of the ciabatta buns used in Canada.
— Tim Hortons UK (@timhortonsuk) April 10, 2017
Tims plans to expand to a number of other locations throughout the UK over the next year, starting in Glasgow on June 2nd—a smart launch site because of the local student population. Tims teased its store opening by dispatching a mobile truck to Glasgow University to dispense free coffee, doughnuts and Timbits on the last day of exams.
This Friday, according to The Insider, its store opening on Glasgow’s Argyle Street will bring extra treats: “The first 100 guests in Glasgow will be offered a free breakfast, and the first 10 will also receive 50 free Timbits every month for a year. The first guest will get free coffee for a full year with their very own bespoke Tims card. There will also be prizes up for grabs, including the chance to win a trip for two to Canada.”
Gurprit Dhaliwal, COO at Tim Hortons UK and Ireland, told The Scotsman: “We’ve witnessed Tim Hortons’ phenomenal success in Canada, and wanted to replicate this in Great Britain. “It’s hard to explain just how important Tim Hortons is to Canadians, it’s not just a restaurant, it’s a way of life and a place of ‘home’, and we’re positive Great Britain will fall in love with the brand.”
The opening was foreshadowed in 2001/2002, when Canadian David Mole was a student at Glasgow University and opened a pop-up Tim Hortons in his dorm room to bring a taste of home to his fellow students, as recounted in this 2003 spot:
Horton, who played more than two decades in the NHL, including more than 18 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, decided to plan for life after hockey by opening his first Tim Horton Doughnut Shop in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964. Four years later, it was multi-million-dollar venture with a fast-growing number of franchises.
He never got to see it reach anything near its current heights as he was killed in a drunk driving accident in early 1974 at the age of 44 while a member of the Buffalo Sabres. His blood alcohol level was reportedly twice the legal limit.
His business partner, Ron Joyce, bought out his family for $1 million shortly after, when the chain had just 40 stores. On In August 2014, Burger King struck a deal to buy Tim Hortons for US$11.4 billion. The chain duly became a subsidiary of the Oakville-based holding company Restaurant Brands International, which is majority-owned by Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital.
Today, there are more than 4,600 locations. And there are more to come, with international expansion a big focus for RBI. In addition to 683 locations in the US as of Dec. 31, 2016, it has also established beachheads—literally—in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and recently signed master franchise agreements in the Philippines and Mexico.
Iced coffee, anyone?