FTG 198

Tim Hortons is keen to explore opportunities to open sites within UK travel networks, including motorway service stations, roadside, rail and air locations, chief commercial officer Kevin Hydes told MCA’s Food To Go Conference this week.

The Canadian QSR brand currently operates 72 sites in the UK, of which 56 are drive-thrus and the rest high street and shopping centre locations, but is looking at ways it can partner with other businesses in order to propel its brand into new areas.

Hydes said Tim Hortons would continue on a similar growth trajectory this year as last, with plans to open 25-30 new locations, with the vast majority of them to be drive-thrus sites, “and considerable growth thereafter”.

“Drive-thrus have been the mainstay of our growth, certainly over the past couple of years. I think we are now the third largest drive thru operator selling coffee in the UK,” he said, adding that it was “a little bit behind one and two, but have high intentions to catch up”.

Starting its life as a food truck in 1964, the brand has grown to 4,000 restaurants in its native Canada, and 5,300 globally, launching in the UK in 2017.

Unlike other international brands that launch in the UK, and open first in high footfall tourist locations like Leicester Square or Covent Garden, Hydes said Tim Hortons took “a very different approach to our openings strategy in the UK”.

“We never came to the UK to be successful in London. We will be successful in London when we open sites there… but we came to be a national player, with many hundreds of sites across the UK,” he said.

“Proving that we can be successful in Covent Garden is not the mission of our business, proving that we can be successful in Scunthorpe, in Glasgow, in Cardiff, that’s more important to us.”

Driven by research into where the highest potential areas would be for success for the brand, Tim Hortons found that despite there being 80,000 Canadians living in London, the connections between consumers in the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were closer to the brand, with more consumers in those areas having family ties to Canada than further south.

Hydes also spoke about the cult following it had built up in the UK, both from Canadian residents and locals. The brand has worked to build up high excitement and anticipation from local communities and brand fans in advance of openings, with Hydes stating that customers have queue for up to 26 hours to be the first through the door and claim their prize of free coffee for a year.

“We have invested a lot of time, effort and financial resources in social media advertising,” he explained. “Social media is I think a leveller in the marketplace – we can’t afford to be on television right now, or to be running a huge advertising campaign but we can pretty much go toe to toe on social media with every single other operator in the marketplace, so understanding the data and the performance and engaging with those audiences has been really key.”