David Brait Topics in Data Science

Toronto's Coffee Chains

The City of Toronto’s open data portal has a frequently updated dataset with detailed information on all the licences issued in the city. I thought it would be interesting to look at the city’s coffee shops and examine the current landscape and how things have changed over the last 15 years.

Tim Horton’s

Tim Horton’s has always been the undisputed king of coffee in Toronto as evidenced by the numbers. For the last fifteen years they have had a dominating presence across the city. There is a dense concentration of stores in downtown and the rest of the map is close to evenly distributed, with Tim’s locations popping up near most major intersections.


The last decade’s most notable development is the aggressive expansion of Starbucks. Tim’s can still claim superior breadth throughout the city. However, along the subway lines, in the downtown core, and in Toronto’s upscale neighbourhoods, Starbucks has caught and arguably surpassed Tim Horton’s. Comparing the current map, to maps from 2006 and 2011 you can see Starbucks has doubled down on their core demographic, leaving no wealthy area of the city uncovered.

Upscale Mini Chains

Second Cup has long been a Toronto staple, growing incrementally with the city’s population. Their location strategy lies somewhere in between Tim’s and Starbucks, as they predominantly cater to a downtown/commuter base, but have also expanded into other areas.

Alongside the rise of Starbucks, the last decade has seen the proliferation of niche coffee chains. Aroma Espresso Bar is a great example, five years ago it barely existed, now they are big enough to register as a portion of the market. On a smaller scale, they have followed the same pattern as Starbucks, scattering locations downtown and along the subway.

Losing Market Share

Two chains have struggled over the last decade with negative growth. Fifteen years ago, Coffee Time was Tim Horton’s biggest competitor. They have experience a significant drop off in locations each of the past five years. Timothy’s has been the biggest loser in upscale locations, as niche brands and Starbucks have taken over.

Other Competitors

All of this does not consider the rise of the independent coffee shop, which in trendier neighborhoods is a significant portion of the market. It also does not include places like McDonald’s, which in certain parts of the city is likely Tim Horton’s biggest competitor.

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