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Tim Horton – Striving for Excellence

In 1964 the first Tim Hortons restaurant opened its doors in Hamilton, Ontario and people from around the world have been ordering the Tim Hortons iconic Original Blend coffee, Double-Double coffees, Donuts and Timbits ever since. In this interview RLI spends some time with Hesham Almekkawi, CEO of Tim Hortons – Middle East to discuss how the company is expanding in one of its major global markets.

Tim Horton - Striving for Excellence 1

The company which began life almost 60 years ago is now Canada’s largest restaurant chain and serves over five million cups of coffee every day with 80 per cent of Canadians visiting a site in the country at least once a month. More than a coffee and bake shop, Tim Hortons is part of the fabric of Canada and a proud symbol of the country and its values.

The business began its international expansion in 2011 with the UAE’s first café & bake shop which was opened in Dubai by the iconic retail group Apparel. In the last 12 years global expansion has become an increasing priority for the brand across many countries.

Tim Horton - Striving for Excellence 2
Dubai Hills Mall
Dubai, UAE

“In recent years the brand has introduced its well-loved offerings to guests beyond Canada and the US,” explains Hesham Almekkawi, CEO of Tim Horton – Middle East. “Currently we have over 5,100 restaurants across 14 countries and regions, including the Middle East, China, the UK, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and the Philippines.”

Today, under AG Café, the brand has expanded in the GCC to reach more than 250 locations across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain and recently opened its first seven restaurants in India. This year will also see the company expand into Egypt for the first time.

Recently five new stores were inaugurated on the same day in Kuwait and Almekkawi says this was a fantastic success. The brand has been welcomed by Kuwaitis with an overwhelming reception with many people awaiting its launch into the country after experiencing it for the first time in Canada. On the day of launch, people queued for hours in advance of the opening, reflecting the strength of the brand in the region.

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Dubai Festival City Mall
Dubai, UAE

The vision of Tim Hortons across the Middle East in years to come is to reach 500 restaurants. While it is not immediately their intention to become the largest in terms of number of restaurants, what is important is that they become ‘The Café of Choice’ for people across the region.

When it comes to developing new products and initiatives to maintain its position in the sector, the CEO emphasises that they ask the customers what they think. “We do not develop to sell. We develop products because customers told us there is a demand. We try to match the taste and preferences of consumers in all six of our current Middle Eastern markets. It is not an easy job to do all of that while maintaining the DNA of the brand. I always tell people – ask the customers. They will always tell you the truth.”

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Dubai Hills Mall
Dubai, UAE

The Tim Hortons mission is to create experiential moments for their customers because today it is not just about the product or service. Today, the experience retailers provide is what keeps customers coming back, whether it is a fashion brand that is in question or a restaurant. The company pays attention to small details such as the look and feel of the restaurants, the level of lighting and music all the while maintaining their superior level of product and service. Great pride is taken in their coffee as it is made from 100 per cent Arabica beans that are ethically sourced and they are the only brand that can claim this. Almekkawi feels today’s consumers are becoming more interested than ever to know these details and the company is proud to tell them.

In terms of social media and how this is utilised, work is being undertaken on a complete evolution to the group’s digital marketing strategy in 2023 to present a complete ecosystem solution that can then be rolled out to each market in which they operate, accounting for different cultures and different needs across different markets.

Along with their social media presence, Tim Hortons is also relaunching their App to add more engaging features and to cover all segments of the business such as dine-in, pick-up or delivery in a seamless and enjoyable process.

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Abu Dhabi Corniche
Abu Dhabi, UAE

“Sustainability is another area that we are focusing on and we have made headway in this regard as well,” Almekkawi explains. “A few years ago we eliminated the use of plastic bags and encourage dine-in customers to use ceramics. We are also relaunching our reusable cups campaign that we introduced before the pandemic where we give a discount if the customers bring their own reusable cups that we sell in our restaurants to minimise the use of paper cups.”

The business is humble, unique and ambitious. They continually keep an eye on competition, but their focus remains on being true to what the brand stands for and they always listen to what customers are saying. They love to be part of communities and are perceived as a cool brand that customers from all ages love to be associated with. Humility and striving for excellence are the keys to do so according to the CEO.

“The pandemic has created many challenges for the F&B industry and retail in general. We are faced with the constant increase in coffee and raw material prices coupled with unprecedented delays in shipping. Also, operating across multiple international markets creates many challenges due to the different regulations, taxation and government rules. With all of these challenges, we have to maintain our value proposition to consumers. It is a tough battle for all retailers and we are constantly working to mitigate it. While there are a lot of challenges to overcome, we remain optimistic for the future and what it has in store,” Almekkawi concludes.