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Tim Hortons goes indie with new, darker coffee

Tim Hortons goes indie with new, darker coffee

Would you like your medium double-double to have subtle notes of international small business development on the tongue? A smooth mouthfeel of morality and a robust finish with strong hints of fair sourcing?

Well, Tim Hortons believes they’ve just introduced the ethically-justified java you’re looking for.

The Canadian coffee-and-donut chain is set to introduce Partnership Blend, their first coffee sourced entirely from farmers involved in their Coffee Partnership program.

The ground coffee is available in 343-gram bags, meant to be brewed at home. Each bag retails for $7.69, with one dollar from each purchase going back to the partnership program.

Developed eight years ago as demand for fair trade coffee was expanding, the program works with small-scale farmers in Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia to expand their business and ensure they’re following efficient and ethical management practices. The operation is then audited by a third-party group to ensure its effectiveness.

“The Coffee Partnership was conceived...with the singular purpose of improving the lives of small-scale coffee farmers by tackling the economic, social and environmental aspects of farming,” said Chief Brand and Marketing Officer Bill Moir in a press release.

Many independent coffee shops rely on Fair Trade Certified beans, but the large volumes required by giants like Tim Hortons and Starbucks make official fair trade sourcing challenging, as most fair trade organizations require the coffee to be grown by a co-op, as opposed to an individually-owned estate.

The new brew is said to be slightly darker and more complex than their regular coffee, generally considered to be on the easy-drinking end of the spectrum. By deepening the flavour of its product and appealing to the fair-trade crowd, Tim Hortons appears to be targeting a more discerning segment of the coffee market, one that may have written off the low-cost brand in the past.

The iconic Canadian brand has also faced a stiff new challenge in its own low-cost segment since McDonald’s drastic “McCafé” rebranding, a move that McDonald’s Canada CEO John Betts called their biggest initiative since the introduction of the Egg McMuffin breakfast sandwich over 30 years ago. Free Wi-Fi, espresso-based beverages, comfortable seating and a more relaxed ambience enabled the company to double its market share in coffee from five per cent to over 10 in just over four years.

To recoup some of this lost ground Tim Hortons plans to renovate 300 of its stores in 2013, and now with the introduction of a richer, ethically-sourced product, seems to be gradually moving towards a more modern model of a coffee shop.

Whether Partnership Blend manages to move the needle in some significant way may depend on how willing customers are to take a bag home and brew it themselves. Given the importance of convenience for coffee consumers, that may be a tough sell.

Still, with the continued growth of higher-end coffee shops and the sudden challenge from fast-food brands like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway, the stalwart Canadian breakfast joint could use something fresh, and if the lives of thousands of coffee farmers can be improved along the way, why be cynical?