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The insatiable thirst of consumers: Timmy’s steps it up a cup

By in Opinions

On Jan. 23, Tim Hortons hot cup sizes were shuffled down in scale to accommodate the new and improved extra large size.

Your small double-double is now an extra-small, your medium is now a small and so forth. The newest addition to the homegrown franchise’s cup family is a rather large 24 ounces. This new size sits neatly between the McDonald’s medium (21 ounces) and large (32 ounces) soft drink sizes, and stands a couple ounces shy of that two-six one must have consumed the previous night to warrant a coffee so large.

I consider myself to be a relatively small-bladdered human, so you will not see me lugging one of these new extra larges around (although even I can appreciate the fitting name change from the thimble-sized small to extra small).

One wonders whether anyone really needs this much coffee on a regular basis. Health Canada recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for the average, healthy adult. One 24-ounce cup of Tim Hortons coffee contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine. So as long as you keep these mammoth-sized beverages out of children’s reach and stick to only one extra large a day, all should be well.

The problem, of course, is that it’s not just Tim Hortons.

In January of 2011, Seattle-based Starbucks introduced their own new extra large into U.S. markets, the 31-ounce “trenta.” Mind you, the trenta size is for their iced beverages only, which usually contain more ice than beverage.

Why the current trend of upsizing? I am going to rule out the assumption that North Americans are just getting that much thirstier. The trenta is bigger than the average human stomach, and there’s no way anyone really needs that much iced coffee. However, the trenta and the new Tim Hortons extra large are the best deals financially.

This desire to get the best marginal deal is what sells the get-18-beers-for-the-price-of-15 Budweiser pack, and compels people to buy 25 pounds of hummus from Costco. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been there with the tub of hummus that expires long before I can eat it all. It has almost become second nature to want more for less, regardless of the quality. Some people wonder why they should buy a 12-ounce cup of quality brewed coffee, when they could get 24 ounces of mediocre coffee for half the price.

Some people are concerned this new adjustment to the sizes will only add to the mountains of Tim Hortons litter we’ve grown accustomed to. And they may be right. However, as far as I can see, the blame falls solely on the shoulders of consumers. Tim Hortons does offer a 10-cent discount if you use a travel mug and, unlike Starbucks, if your order is to stay they serve your warm bevvy in a classy, branded china mug. The 10 cents may not be much incentive for some, but for those who genuinely care about the environmental effects of the three-million-and-something cups of coffee sold daily by Tim Hortons, it isn’t really about the discount.

As is apparent, consumers will consume non-essentials as long as franchise giants, such as Tim Hortons, realize the elasticity of demand present in their market. There is a reason the new extra large costs exactly $1.90; if it were priced at $2.10 the target market may just stick with the large. Somewhat sly pricing such as this is what fuels consumerism.

The old woman in me cannot help but dread the day when this 24-ounce extra large is the new small. I can just imagine the special handles they will need to invent so that people’s small hands can hold cups bigger than their torsos.

Although regular people largely drive this overconsumption and waste, it’s also the responsibility of Mr. Horton himself.

Tim Horton, the company founder, was not some kind of devil, and I don’t like to compare Tim Hortons to franchises such as McDonald’s or Starbucks, because Tim Hortons does aim to serve healthy and fresh food and beverages. Tim Hortons also makes an effort within the Canadian community with initiatives such as their Children’s Foundation and countless local programs. As well, Tim Hortons contributes to our economy in a big way, in large part by supplying over 100,000 jobs nationwide. It could very well be their successful marketing strategy that convinces me that Tim Hortons is truly Canadian and all good, but I’d like to believe I’m not so naive as to associate Tim Hortons with some part of the Canadian in me.

I realize their comparative advantage on cheap ingredients is taking business from local bakeries and coffee shops, which is kind of depressing. But I guess at some point I will have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone cares this much about ethical coffee consumption. Not everyone wants to sit down and have a small cup of fair trade coffee that is the price of half an hour’s work at minimum wage. I totally get that. I do not value a cup of coffee at $4.50, hence my home-brewed cup of joe in an aluminum Contigo travel mug — that I got from Costco.

Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf

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