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Employees prepare an order at a Tim Hortons Inc. restaurant in Oakville, Ont.Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Tim Hortons Inc., Canada's largest coffee merchant, is adding a dark roast coffee to its menu, giving an alternative to its java blend for the first time in its 50-year history.

The Oakville, Ont.-based company is adding the new line starting Friday, matching the sales price of its original blend, priced at $1.57 for a medium cup, according to an e– mailed statement.

"Tim Hortons prides itself on serving best-in-class coffee and responding to the evolving tastes of our guests, and our new Dark Roast blend speaks to that commitment" said Chief Executive Officer Marc Caira in the statement.

By keeping its traditional coffee while giving customers a taste of something new, Tim Hortons is trying to lure the Starbucks crowd while not alienating customers on price. The company is bringing in the new drink after its own research found consumers enjoy consuming a darker roast coffee.

The coffee-and-doughnut chain, which competes with fast-food outlets like McDonald's Corp., is expanding its product lines to boost sales as price increases remain a limited option. The company, which has 4,500 restaurants, already piloted the dark coffee blend, including in its Quebec stores.

Its introduction is also part of a larger shake-up Tim Hortons is making to the menu. Caira said last week the company is looking to broaden its brand and popularity with the lunch crowd. The company has also added variety to its menu through the introduction of the crispy chicken sandwich, turkey sausage, hot breakfast sandwich, new hashbrowns and frozen hot chocolate.

The strategy paid off in the last quarter. The company's stock hit a record on Aug. 6 after it posted results that beat estimates and said fiscal 2014 profit will top or be at the high end of its target range.

The new dark roast will also be sold in 343 gram bags for $6.69 and 14-pack single serve coffee cups for $9.99 at its restaurants and at grocers across Canada. In the U.S. it will be sold at Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shop locations in 1 pound bags for $7.99 and 14-pack single serve coffee cup formats and at grocers in 12 ounce bags for $7.99 and 12-packs of single serve coffee cups for $8.99.

Shares of Tim Hortons rose 0.2 per cent to $68.12 at the close in Toronto today, taking their gain to 9.9 per cent this year.

The chain was founded in Hamilton, Ont., in 1964 by the late Tim Horton, who was a National Hockey League player.

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