Finally, a Good News Story for Tim Hortons

A move to a digital Roll Up the Rim has earned the giant coffee chain praise from environmentalists.
Tim Hortons revamps its Roll Up the Rim contest and gives away free reusable cups
Photo by Mario Beauregard via the Canadian Press

It’s been a tough couple years for Tim Hortons. The franchise that once considered itself Canada’s national treasure has faced a series of flops as it tried to give itself a much-needed makeover.

In 2019, it launched nearly 60 new products—two to three times as many as it usually tries out in a given year. Remember its Beyond Meat plant-based burgers? Yeah, neither do we.

Tim Hortons franchise owners complained about the ever-changing menu, and decreased sales. And there was the long, very public battle that began in 2017, from two class-action suits filed by franchise owners against Tim Hortons, which was settled last year. And in 2018, the head office was put in the position of criticizing its franchisees in Ontario for cutting employee benefits to battle a minimum wage hike.

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Sales at Tims have been on a steep downward trend since 2016. And its latest quarterly results were bad—sales fell sharply. For stores that have been open for more than a year, sales dropped 4.6 percent while the chain's new-store sales dropped 4.3 percent. In a press release, Jose Cil, who is the CEO of Tims’ parent company Restaurant Brands said, “our performance did not reflect the power of our brand and it’s clear we have a large opportunity to refocus on our founding values and what has made us famous with our guests over the years.”

In addition to its poor financial performance, Tim Hortons has been called out for selling unrecyclable coffee cups. Last February, three young Canadians from Calgary started the #BetterCup campaign calling on Tims to come out with a coffee cup that is fully recyclable and compostable. More than 176,000 people have signed their petition.

But Tims might be on to something with its revamped Roll Up the Rim competition which rewards people for using reusable cups with extra chances to win a prize. The one-month campaign kicks off on March 11 and runs until April 7. For the first two weeks customers will get the usual unrecyclable cups. But for the last two weeks it goes digital, meaning you only get a chance to win if you use their app. And Tims is giving away 1.8 million reusable cups for free on March 10, right before Roll Up the Rim starts, which the company says is part of its 10-year commitment to change consumer habits.

According to Greenpeace, in 2019 Tim Hortons produced 260 million single-use coffee cups for its Roll Up the Rim contest. But even the usually critical environmental group applauded this latest move towards incentivizing reusable cups.

In a written statement Wednesday, Sarah King, the head of Greenpeace’s oceans and plastics campaign, said “We need a massive culture shift away from single-useness, and we need major companies to drive it. We encourage Tim Hortons to act swiftly to take this positive step to the next level and commit to reduce its plastic footprint once and for all to address its role in the growing waste and pollution crisis.”

For now, let’s wait and see how the move to a Roll Up the Rim app goes. It didn’t work out so well for Iowa.

Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.