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Why Tim Hortons is betting on a stronger cup of joe

Tim Hortons’ ad campaign for its new dark roast coffee emphasizes the “more intense” dark taste.


Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

In 2012, Starbucks Corp. launched a blonde roast in Canada, toning down its famously strong coffee in a bid to lure customers away from competitor Tim Hortons Inc. Now Tim Hortons is pushing back by launching a new coffee blend for the first time in its history: a dark roast.

The launch, complete with a new ad campaign emphasizing the "more intense" dark taste, is a bet by Tim Hortons that consumer tastes are changing in Canada.

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That is partly due to its competitor's encroachment on the market, with Starbucks cafes opening on seemingly every corner, and the chain's Italian menu bringing a bit of gourmet coffee culture to the masses.

Likewise, as foodie culture has become more mainstream, some consumers are seeking out bolder, more robust coffee.

But not everyone: Starbucks saw instant success with its lighter roast. Within one year of launching in stores, the blonde roast was already making up close to 20 per cent of Starbucks' Canadian coffee sales. It even rebranded the roast last year, calling it the "True North" blend.

So why is Tim Hortons investing in darker coffee?

The same way Starbucks was looking to appeal to the tastes of consumers who shied away from its strong drinks, the Canadian coffee chain is looking to profit from changing consumer tastes.

Here's how the numbers break down:

-10 per cent: the rate at which sales of dark roast coffee have been growing per year in recent years.*

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-15 per cent: the percentage of roast and ground coffee sales at grocery stores, drug stores and other retailers that is made up of dark roast products, among the top 150 coffee items on shelves.*

-49 per cent: the percentage of Canadian coffee drinkers who drink brewed coffee (either made at home or purchased at coffee shops and restaurants) who "define the last coffee they had as dark roast."**

*Source: Nielsen MarketTrack Data, December 2013

**Source: 2013 Canadian Coffee Drinking Trends, Coffee Association of Canada

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