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Hamilton Economic Development

Every bean counts in Ancaster

Chief taste master Kevin West slurps a sample of coffee at Tim Hortons' roasting plant in Ancaster.At the Tim Hortons coffee roasting plant in Ancaster, they like to say they produce the coffee just as fast as Canadians drink it.

The shiny burgundy pouches containing the precisely 2.5 ounces of coffee that make a pot in a Tim Hortons are a blur of motion inside a packaging machine.

They are filled and sealed at a rate of 1,025 packages a minute.

This 75,000-square-foot plant, which opened in 2009, produces almost all the coffee served in the 3,300 Tim Hortons locations in Canada. That’s about 10,000 132-pound bags a week.

They’re stacked a couple of storeys high in this spotless plant. Tim Hortons gave the media a peek Tuesday into the process behind the cup of joe millions of Canadians rely on each day. The country’s biggest restaurant chain is in the middle of a coffee war, battling with both premium and low-priced rivals.

And coffee is critical to the Hamilton-born chain, accounting for about 40 per cent of its annual revenue.

The first noticeable thing about the spotless plant is that it’s highly automated. Each pallet is marked with a bar code that indicates the country and grower of origin, along with a series of unique tracking numbers. It’s so sophisticated that the beans in a pouch at a store in Winnipeg can be traced back to the farms they came from.

Once a batch is sampled and determined to be good enough to be roasted, human hands never touch the beans, says plant manager Lyle Fleetham.

The batch number is inputted throughout blending, roasting, grinding and packaging. If there is a problem anywhere along the line, the plant’s employees can track its origins and make corrections.

“We will stop, debrief on the problem and will discard anything that isn’t up to our specifications,” explains Fleetham. “We’ll work back through the system until the point at which it was clear.”

The coffee is roasted in 13,000-pound batches in one of two giant roasters. The beans are funneled into bunkers that mix the correct proportion of beans from each region used in the top-secret Tim Hortons blend.

The second thing to know is that quality control is strict here. Beans are sampled twice before they even make it to the Ancaster roastery, beginning with a small sample sent just after harvest. They are sampled no fewer than five times during the roasting and grinding process, about every 20 minutes.

The beans are roasted for about 12 minutes at 420 F. Once the desired colour is reached, the roast is quenched with water and cold air is used to cool the beans.

The beans are then tempered to allow the moisture collected on the outside to migrate throughout the now-dark bean. Then it’s off to grinding and degassing to allow carbon dioxide buildup to dissipate over 10 to 13 hours.

Finally, the ground coffee is packaged in pouches and then 144 of them go into a box for shipping. Each box is weighed and it must come within a few ounces of its 10 kg target or it’s thrown off the line.

The third thing to know is that Tim Hortons takes its top-secret coffee blend very seriously.

There are four to six types of beans in the blend and company tasters work diligently to make sure the coffee tastes the same batch after batch and year after year and in every Tim Hortons in the chain.

Company officials do reveal that beans are used from Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Kenya, El Salvador and other South and Central American countries. Tim Hortons buys from different regions and different vendors to capture the taste profiles it wants in its blend.

That means constant readjustment to account for crop quality, the impacts of weather, and changing growing techniques. About 10 to 15 per cent of the coffee shipped to the plant is rejected for its quality.

Kevin West, senior director of coffee operations, says a recent batch of green beans had a “mouldy or bleachy smell to it.” Unroasted beans should have no smell at all, he says.

The company is taking an ever-more active role in dealing directly with vendors and growers. That includes a partnership program that coaches farmers on growing techniques and quality control. West travels to coffee-growing regions a few times a year to meet with growers.

That relationship is key, he says, because the competition for quality coffee beans is fierce.

As the chain plans for strong growth, the $30-million Ancaster plant has been designed with that in mind. There is room on the shop floor for more roasters and grinders and the company owns the vacant property next door.

Neil Everson, the city’s director of economic development, is eager to see Tim Hortons grow in Hamilton. He says attracting the plant opened up a new phase of the Ancaster business park that is rapidly filling. It’s also got the attention of other developers in the food and beverage segment, he says.

It’s a sector the city is targeting for growth beyond the 50 processors that already call Hamilton home.

And for Everson, the roasting plant is symbolic, too.

“With the company starting on Ottawa Street, I can’t think of a better place for the (roastery) to go than the place it all started.”

The coffee tester

Kevin West says he has the best job in the world, at least for a coffee lover.

Officially Tim Hortons director of coffee operations, West is also the chief taste master in a coffee chain that closely guards its blend secret.

Only three people in the world know the proportions of beans from different countries and how the recipe is roasted. West is one of them.

He tastes about 300 cups of coffee a day in a sleek lab and tasting room at the company’s Ancaster roastery.

Yes, that’s right, 300. (He says he doesn’t sleep well, but doesn’t think it has anything to do with the coffee).

He doesn’t drink that many cups. Instead, West and his team of four tasters smell and sample a spoonful before spitting it out in what looks like a spittoon in a dentist’s office. In coffee parlance, it’s called cupping.

First they “break the crust” by poking through the thick layer of floating grounds in the five-minute steeped cup. His nose is in danger of touching the hot water, he gets so close to the cup. Smelling is critical and that first burst of aroma in the newly stirred cup says it all, he says.

From here, this is a noisy process. Producing the kind of slurping sound that would earn a stern look from any mother, West sucks in the brew and a healthy dose of oxygen and swishes the liquid around his palate. During a tour of the plant Tuesday, he talks about citrus overtones and hints of chocolate. He mentions nuttiness but says peanutiness indicates the beans were unripe when picked.

Most of this is likely lost on the average Tim Hortons drinker, but West is in charge of making sure the chain’s blend tastes like Tim Hortons every time.

“Tim Hortons is an easy-drinking coffee. We call it an everyday, full city medium roast.”

It is apparently very easy to drink. About eight out of 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada are poured in Tim Hortons. More than 40 per cent of its customers visit a store four or more times a week.

All the company reps have heard it before: Tim Hortons puts something extra addictive in its brew.

“I think people are just addicted to consistency,” says plant manager Lyle Fleetham.

Even West finds himself at his local Tim Hortons a few times a day on the weekends.

“I only get it at the store. They know what they’re doing there and they do it better than I could ever do it at home.”

Article courtesy of The Hamilton Spectator

 

McMaster Innovation Park boosts its thinking power

McMaster Innovation Park is acquiring some new, innovative minds with the arrival of IdeaciaONE — a consulting firm for entrepreneurial businesses.

The Markham-based company is comprised of a suite of three sets of services: SR&ED (scientific research and experimental development) claim preparation; marketing; and management and acquisition of the sale or purchase of a business and investor relations (M&A).

“We are not only opening a new office to better serve the Greater Hamilton area, but more importantly we are excited to become strategic partners with MIP and the Hamilton Economic Development department,” said Jennifer Powers, co-founder and principal, in a statement.

The company has five offices across the country in addition to the one in Hamilton. It opens in July and will have one employee based here.

Mark Stewart, marketing and leasing manager for McMaster Innovation Park, said IdeaciaONE’s presence will enable staff to offer more services to tenants who are often high-tech startups with a need for services to access capital injections, planning out a marketing strategy and research and development funding applications.

He said the company’s specialty in SR&ED will be particularly helpful.

“It’s a great addition for us — the SR&ED hole has been bugging me for a while,” he said. “Any company: small, big, new, old, whether they need some information on tax credits, getting funding for a startup product or a new product, they’ll be able to help.”

Stewart said the services IdeaciaONE offers is a nice complement to the work at Innovation Factory and Angel One investors.

“It offers us a bit more bench strength for helping companies.”

Article courtesy of The Hamilton Spectator

Mabel finds her way to Walmart

The partners behind Mabel's Labels - from left, Cythia Esp, Tricia Mumby, Julie Cole and Julie Ellis,  - have inked a deal with Walmart Canada.The little label company that could has cracked the wall of Walmart.

Mabel’s Labels, a born-and-bred Hamilton company that has taken online and mommy marketing by storm, is now found in 330 of the company’s Canadian stores in a one-year exclusive contract with the Mississauga-based chain.

The business began when two sisters and their two friends were tired of their kids coming home from day care, school or camp minus their belongings. They came up with durable personalized labels, self-adhesive or iron-ons, that can be affixed to clothes, lunch boxes, backpacks, water bottles and anything else kids tote around and often leave behind.

Forty-five customized labels sell for $21.

In 10 years, Mabel’s has sold more than 50 million labels in 97 countries through its website. The company has mastered social media, hired public relations companies to generate attention in mom-oriented media, won plenty of business awards and built enormous loyalty out of customers, including some celebrity followers.

They’ve grown out of the basement of one of their homes and into a 14,000-square-foot facility on Chatham Street.

Where they used to stay up late into the night filling orders after their work days were done, the partners now employ 40 people.

But this is their first foray into retailing and president and partner Julie Cole says it was terrifying.

“We started the negotiations six months ago and then we went into pitch. It was scary,” says Cole, a mom of six who gave up a law career to focus on the business.

“Here’s little Mabel and big, old Walmart. But they responded really warmly to us. They recognized the value of the product and knew their customers would love it.”

Mabel’s had hired a retail consultant who has plenty of experience from the inside, including a stint as Walmart’s leader of vendor development and pricing strategy.

Gerald Harris prepared them for what Walmart would require, including building a sophisticated distribution and supply chain process to keep the store shelves packed with labels. He coached them on the pitch and Cole says she doesn’t think they could have landed the deal without him.

But Harris disagrees.

He believes the company’s story, its product and its aggressive marketing would have landed the labels at Walmart eventually. He says the giant retailer has a reputation for playing hardball with the big guys, but when it comes to small business, its approach is different.

“They are looking for more local products, more Canadian products, and, at least in the States, there is a big focus on businesses owned by women,” says Harris.

Harris says moms have always been Walmart’s core customer. For years, the typical shopper was dubbed “Linda” by the retailer. She had two or three kids, a double-car garage and a middle-class income.

“If you gain that shopper’s loyalty when her kids are young, she sticks with you when her kids are big, burly teenagers eating everything in sight. Who doesn’t want that customer?”

Cole says they jumped into retail in response to customers who often wish the labels were sold in stores. But at the same time, the partners worried about cannibalizing their own online business by going the retail route.

So they did market research and focus groups and determined that the two channels will serve different markets.

“Lots of people don’t order online or they need labels last minute because their kids are going to camp.”

Then the partners worried about how to transfer their personalized labels to a store. They considered the top 100 most popular names in spinning racks.

“But how do you manage that? How do you keep track? Oh, the Jennifers are sold out there and the Alexes are all gone there. It was too overwhelming.”

So they developed prototypes for peel and stick labels that are written on with marker and then a clear overlay is pressed over top as lamination, making the labels dishwasher and microwave proof. Called Write Away! Labels, they sell for $10.47 for a package of 30.

Jenn Williams, category manager for stationery with Walmart Canada, knew about Mabel’s Labels before the company pitched its product.

“I was very excited they had come to us. They had done their research and were very well prepared. It was a perfect match for Walmart because our customer is Mom.”

Cole says the Walmart deal is a huge step for the company and will mean some hiring.

“I can hardly believe it. The labels are on the shelves as of last week. I have never been to Walmart so many times in my life,” she jokes.

About half of Mabel’s online sales come from the U.S. and Harris says the next logical extension will be talking to Walmart there. But he says the plans are even bigger than that.

“We have a full North American go-to market strategy developed. We hope to be in lots of retailers in North America and beyond.”

With files from Torstar News

Article courtesy The Hamilton Spectator.

Focus on sustainability is good for business

When Tim Hortons wrote its first sustainability and responsibility report in 2008, just three competitors, McDonalds, Starbucks and Taco Bell/KFC parent company Yum, had reports of their own.

Just two years later, when Tim Faveri, the doughnut chain’s director of sustainability, reviewed the strategy, there were more than a dozen plans among competitors.

“There seemed to be a tipping point around that time,” said Faveri, who was the keynote speaker at Sustainable Hamilton’s boot camp event Wednesday.

He said investors, consumers and activists have pushed publicly traded companies to disclose their efforts on reducing their environmental impacts and tackling thorny issues such as the use of child labour and the treatment of animals.

The seminar featured several speakers who outlined ways businesses and organizations can design, implement and get buy-in for sustainability plans.

Sustainability runs the gamut from energy efficiency and waste reduction to community involvement and employee satisfaction.

“The people who are here really understand the possibilities offered by sustainability, that it helps them do the right thing and be better businesses,” said Sandi Stride, president and CEO of Sustainable Hamilton. “But they don’t know where to begin.”

The group is a year old and aims to convince Hamilton businesses to adopt sustainability as a strategy for greater prosperity.

The Tim Hortons plan is based on the three pillars of individuals (includes offering healthy options, responding to customer inquiries, food safety endeavours, employee advancement), communities (Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation, investment in community sports, partnerships with coffee growers) and the planet (reduction of packaging and energy use, waste diversion, build more LEED-certified restaurants).

Faveri acknowledged that the individual and planet aspects are works in progress, although the chain is the only one to offer china mugs and has been offering discounts for coffee in refillable travel mugs for years. The company has rolled out recycling bins to more than 800 of its 4,000-plus stores and focused on making its fleet more efficient.

It has also begun pursuing LEED certification for new stores. The first one was opened in Hamilton in late 2010 and the goal is to have 30 more certified in 2012.

“The community focus has been a baked in part of our brand and what we do as a company since the beginning. Our aim is to have the planet and individual pillars become that too.”

Faveri said all company stakeholders — franchise owners, employees, consumers, suppliers — and all divisions of the company had input into the plan. It includes data on energy use, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It is now published in the company’s annual report, alongside its financial results.

“The key things are that you need to make sure sustainability strategies meet the company’s overall goals. If you can’t make a robust business case for what you want to do, you will get pushback.”

Boot camp presenter David Arkell, president of energy consultancy 360 Energy, urged organizations to stop looking at their energy bills as a fixed cost rather than something that can be reduced by as much as 25 per cent without huge capital investments.

“Energy costs were cheap for a long time, so no one looked at them.”

They are typically buried in operational numbers on an income statement but can make up a huge portion of expenses, says Arkell.

Article courtesy The Hamilton Spectator.

Hamilton Highlights Newsletter – June 2012

In the June 2012 edition of Hamilton Highlights…

  • Downtown Hamilton Showcased at International Conference
  • Another Successful Year for the Hamilton 24 Festival
  • The 2012 E. R. Monaco Inspiring Youth Entrepreneurship Award
  • Did you know…

Click here to read the June 2012 Hamilton Highlights newsletter.  If you are interested in signing up for the Hamilton Highlights newsletter, click here.

Hamilton Highlights Newsletter – May 2012

In the May 2012 edition of Hamilton Highlights:

  • Major Downtown Conference in Hamilton this June
  • Introducing Sustainable Hamilton
  • Shining a Little Light on Designers
  • SBEC Business Plan Competition
  • Did you know…

Click here to read the May 2012 Hamilton Highlights newsletter.  If you are interested in signing up for the Hamilton Highlights newsletter, click here.

GE Energy Building the Future in Hamilton

This Hamilton company puts the power behind those giant wind turbines across the province.  With out a transformer there’s clean energy for none!

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