Big interview: Canadian coffee

Big interview: Canadian coffee

Part of the fabric of Canada’s culture, and found in nearly every small town and city in the country, Tim Hortons was founded by its namesake, a famous professional ice hockey player who wanted to create a space where everyone would feel at home, back in the 1960s. Now, as one of Canada’s most popular brands, eight out of 10 cups of coffee sold across the country are served at Tim Hortons, and more than 5.3m Canadians – approximately 15% of the population – visit the chain daily.

The famed café and bake shop is part of Restaurant Brands International Inc, one of the world’s largest quick service restaurant (QSR) companies, with more than $27bn in system sales and over 23,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and US territories. Great Britain is regarded as being a key strategic market for Tim Hortons, recently becoming the first European country to open its doors to the brand. Responsible for bringing it to Great Britain is SK Group, an experienced franchise operator that has already played a major role in the successful UK expansion of Domino’s Pizza.

On launching its first outlet over here, in Glasgow earlier this year, Gurprit Dhaliwal, COO of Tim Hortons UK and Ireland, said: “We’ve witnessed Tim Hortons’ phenomenal success in Canada and want 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 the brand.”

Kevin Hydes recently took the time out of his busy schedule to tell us about the chain’s history, strengths, and its plans for the future…

What is your background?
I’ve worked in the hospitality industry for about 20 years. Originally, I was an operator working in hotels, then in 2001 I moved into marketing and brands with Whitbread. I spent 16 or 17 years there in various roles for different brands. I worked in restaurants with brands like Beefeater, then moved on to working for Costa in 2005. I was at Costa for 11 years, initially working in marketing roles, supporting the fast growth of the business in the UK; then in latter years I was responsible for international brand development, taking it into foreign territories.

And that of the business?
Tim Hortons is a Canadian brand that was originated in 1964 and is a QSR leader in Canada. It’s one of the most trusted brands, full stop, in that marketplace. It’s the place that Canadians go to get coffee and meet within their communities.

It’s grown to a significant size now, about 4,500 outlets, and is bringing the brand to the UK. It’s a wonderful business; in terms of variety of products from baked goods, it’s famous for its doughnuts, muffins and bagels, plus breakfast ranges and an extensive lunch menu.

How is the UK expansion going?
We opened our first shop in Glasgow at the beginning of June. That was our first wave really, just to understand how the business would land here, so there were a lot of opportunities to learn from how the customers reacted to our proposition. We’ve been overwhelmed, really, with the support and the success of the business there.

Now we are into our next wave, opening our second site in Cardiff recently, and we are expecting to have a lot of success there. We have also opened a second outlet in Glasgow.
In addition, we have made some announcements about further openings in Scotland, as we have been very excited about the reaction we have had there. We will be opening in Hamilton, in Strathkelvin and in Dunfermline. They will all be open by the end of the year.

We have also made some announcements about other cities in the UK, including Belfast and Manchester. It’s a busy time from a development and openings perspective, but fundamentally it has been driven by demand from the customer.

Has there been demand for the brand here then?
Yes, what has been interesting is, we obviously listen to customer feedback, so we’ve met a huge amount of people in recent months in Glasgow who have been making almost pilgrimages to get their ‘Tim’s’. We found that they were either people who have been to Canada and enjoyed the brand while they were there on holiday, or they had family in Canada, or people who are Canadian themselves and have moved to the UK.

Our Facebook page is a real reflection of the demand we have received. It’s been really fantastic to watch that, and also to learn how people love the business and what it means to them.

Being a franchise, how do you ensure the quality remains high as you expand?
Clearly this is very important, and over the years, in the roles that I have held in other businesses, I have certainly learned how to achieve that goal. It really comes from the investment into, and the training and development of, people.

In terms of our customer services experience, we are performing fantastically well in Glasgow. It is one of the things that our customers comment on the most – the friendliness of the experience and the enjoyment of the product. It’s our job to ensure we deliver that every single day, to every single customer.

Have you had to adapt the Canadian offer for the UK market?
A lot of the menu is extremely similar to what you would find in Canada. With regard to coffee, we serve three varieties. We have two varieties of brewed coffee, one of which is an original brew that is a mellow and smooth-tasting product that we freshly prepare in our stores. For customers who are looking for a richer flavour, we also have a dark roast product, which is proving to be very, very popular in Glasgow, and we are sure is going to be popular nationwide. Additionally, we offer an espresso, which is a very popular product here. Again, we are selling a huge volume of espresso-based beverages.

Alongside our coffee menu we have brought in some very famous products from Canada – such as our Iced Capp, which is our ice-blended coffee beverage, Timbits doughnuts, and other baked goods that you would expect to find in Canada.

Also, we have made some localised adjustments – there are certain products that Canadians are familiar with that UK customers aren’t. For instance, in our breakfast range, we have decided not to offer our biscuit products, and instead we have brought in brioche, which is much more familiar for the UK consumer.

Do you have a typical clientele, or is it much broader than that?
The business was originally set up to make all customers feel welcome, and that’s a spirit and an ethos we are holding true to here in the UK. We find that people from all walks of life are coming in and enjoying our first site, and we are hoping that will be the case across the others.

What one tip would you offer on running a business like this well?
It’s a bit of a cliché really, but you’ve got to make sure that everything you do is focused on what the customer wants and desires – whether or not that’s the menu; whether or not that’s the way you serve. Friendliness is absolutely critical in driving recommendation in the sector. Therefore, ensuring that we invest in our people, making sure that we have the right people, and also that they have the right level of training, is really, really critical. For me it’s all about maintaining customer focus, and also making sure you are listening to them every day.

Finally, do you have any other plans for the future, beyond what you have told us about already?
Fundamentally we have come to the UK to take up a leadership position, though I can’t give you any more details yet about where, when and how many. Certainly our intention here is to provide customers across the UK with a fantastic food concept that we think they will enjoy. It’s a great value proposition and so far we have been delighted with the results. I’m sure we will continue to see more of the same as we continue to grow.