TORONTO — With eight out of 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada purchased at Tim Hortons, the impact of the beverage on Canada’s iconic brand isn’t lost on Alex Macedo, president of Tim Hortons. Macedo was the keynote speaker at this week’s Coffee Association of Canada conference, held in conjunction with the Coffee and Tea Expo at the Toronto Congress Centre.
The day-long conference, themed “Come Together,” attracted operators and suppliers interested in learning more about the leading trends impacting this segment. Sessions included topics ranging from Beyond the Bean: Challenges and Opportunities for the Industry; Sustainability & Innovationto Cannabis: Navigating the Changing Landscape.
Macedo, who assumed the reins of the coffee chain in 2017, after being senior vice-president of Marketing at Burger King, North America, kicked off the day with a talk focused on the company’s strategic direction and its efforts to take the brand around the world. “Having 80-per-cent market share doesn’t [typically happen],so it’s difficult to stay there,” said Macedo, touching on the challenges the company has faced in recent years. “It’s natural to become complacent.”
He said the company’s slogan “Always fresh” was the starting point for the company’s new strategy. “Our Winning-Together plan focused on our franchisees since we’re a franchise world. We had a few issues with franchisees a few years ago. It’s foolish to have a bad relationship with franchisees and to not tap into their experience,” he admitted.
As part of the company’s strategy, “the first thing to look at was coffee,” said Macedo, explaining “we didn’t have to change the taste profile, but execution and consistency were issues.” As a result, Tims invested heavily in new brewing technology. “We knocked on the door of Bunn and for the past 15 months havebeen working on equipment to meet our needs.” To date,the new equipment is being used in 1,000 Tims units with the rest expected to be phased in early next year.
Secondly, the company focused on changing its cups and lids. “Our old cups looked outdated and the lid didn’t work. It was good for dry cleaners,” quipped Macedo, who admitted that while the company thought it would be simple to change the lid, it ended up taking 15 months. To date, the feedback has been positive: 95 per cent prefer the new “functional lids,” said Macedo, which features a maple leaf. “Coffee tastes better with a good story.” Despite the improvements, Macedo told the crowd of suppliers and operators the company is committed to movingto reusable cups with plans to roll out in something in the next six months.
As part of its strategic plan, the company recently launched its Innovation Café, which debuted last month one floor below the company’s new Toronto headquarters at 130 King St. W. in the Exchange Tower. The cafe features cold-brew coffee technology and a variety of “dream doughnuts” exclusive to the unit. Hockey memorabilia pays a huge role in the design of the café, paying homage to its roots. As an example, the lighting is housed in deconstructed face masks. “We’retaking risks,” said Macedo, “because you can’t succeed without doing so.”
Macedo explained that the café is geared to a younger demographic, adding operating a downtown location comes with a unique set of challenges: higher rents, more complicated labour market and a younger demographic. For now, the company has only one Innovation Café unit but the game plan is to build hundreds more across Canada in the next two to three years.
Finally, Macedo highlighted the company’s international growth plans. “In 2011, we took the brand to the Middle East with exactly the same menu, design and kitchen.” But along the way, the company realized that outside Canada, guests behave differently. “We’ve taken the essence of our brand but we’regoing to be a coffee shop with a lot of adjustments,” said Macedo.
To date, expansion is happening in Mexico, the U.K., Spain, Thailand, Philippines and soon China. “We’re ready to take the brand to the world without losing our essence.”