The House of Robert Timms: An Australian icon celebrates 70 years

The House of Robert Timms is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2021 and will mark the milestone by drawing on its strong Australian heritage to connect with consumers.

Established in 1951, The House of Robert Timms is a brand that is richly steeped in Australian history. From being the major supplier of coffee to Australian and American soldiers during World War II, to developing a special blend for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. To handing out millions of cups of Robert Timms coffees at not one, but two Olympic Games – it’s safe to say that the last 70 years have not been a boring for the coffee brand built by a once humble 15-year-old grocery apprentice.

The early days

In 1924, when Robert Timms Jnr was just 15 he went to work at Moran & Cato, with his father, Robert Timms Snr. Moran & Cato was the largest chain of grocery stores in Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Timms discovered that he had a particular affinity for the sale of tea and coffee, and by mid-1930 he was selling it so successfully that his commissions made him the highest paid employee. When he ultimately left Moran & Cato he sold his shares and used the profits to purchase the Associated Tea Company.

Now, at this time, World War II had broken out, and Timms and his employees played a very important role in supporting the needs of the Australian and American armed forces. You see, Timms had recently set up the first ever automated line for coffee production in Australia, and so during the war, Timms and his staff worked tirelessly to ensure that the soldiers were provided with adequate supplies of fresh coffee – a heroic effort some might say.

At the conclusion of the war, Timms decided to focus on expanding the business, and with many migrants moving to Australia his focus turned to coffee production over tea.

A royal change

In 1951, the name of the company changed to Robert Timms Pty Ltd and it began to rapidly expand across Australia.

The business ramped up when Timms won two major contracts that would change the way coffee was sold in Australia, one of which was a contract to develop a special blend of coffee for Queen Elizabeth II on her royal visit to Australia. ‘Royal Special’ coffee was born and the popular blend still lives on today.

During this time, fresh coffee sales dramatically increased and to meet the demand, Timms introduced fresh coffee self-service grinders into supermarkets. By the end of the decade, Robert Timms coffee was in such high demand that additional roasting plants were set up in Brisbane and Hobart.

Just two years later in 1956, Robert Timms became the official coffee supplier to the Melbourne Olympic Games. This is an honour that the brand enjoyed once again in 2000, as the official coffee supplier to the Sydney Olympic Games. During the Sydney Games, more than two million cups of Robert Timms coffee was handed out to spectators, officials, and athletes.

Seeking new opportunities

In 1964, Timms went on an exploratory trip to New Guinea where the planting and production of coffee beans had started to develop since the end of World War II.

Timms was impressed by the high quality of beans and formed a company, which became the largest exporter of green coffee beans from that country.

This was a step change for the Robert Timms business, which resulted in the development and launch of the brand’s first gourmet instant coffee – New Guinea Gold – that became a best seller in Australia.

By the 1970s, Robert Timms had become the largest privately owned tea and coffee company in Australia, representing more than 75 per cent of the pure coffee market.

The House of Robert Timms today

Robert Timms Pty Ltd was sold to Unilever in the 1980s, which further invested and consolidated the business. It was during this time that coffee bags were first introduced to the Australian market, as an innovative way of delivering café quality coffee in a convenient and freshly sealed single serve bag.

Then, in 1998 family-owned business FreshFood acquired the brands and manufacturing of Robert Timms from Unilever and evolved the brand to be known as The House of Robert Timms.

Today, FreshFood continues to build on the strengths of The House of Robert Timms brand, carrying forward the promise of Robert Timms Jnr, that if he could he would personally sign every bean roasted.

Karen de Leeuw, Business Director, FreshFood, told C&I that the key strength of The House of Robert Timms is the consistency in quality that has been offered for the past 70 years.

“It is a brand that has had longevity and successfully expanded into all spheres of coffee while being innovative and remaining relevant.

“The ability to offer solutions across every segment of the coffee category is quite unique,” she says.

The House of Robert Timms has become known as the single serve expert, not only in terms of instant coffee, but also especially for coffee bags.

“Coffee bags are a perfect innovation in that they are perfectly pre-portioned quality serves resulting in consistency in cup. Each is individually sealed for freshness and is very portable,” says de Leeuw.

“It’s a no mess, no fuss solution in a complicated world.”

There are four variants including Gold Colombia, Italian Espresso, Mocha Kenya and Decaffeinated. The bags are individually sealed, ensuring freshness to give a 100 per cent barista quality coffee experience no matter the situation.

The House of Robert Timms has a range of roast and ground and soluble coffee to suit everyone’s needs. The blends are expertly crafted and roasted in Concord, an inner west suburb of Sydney.

In fact, a recent current affairs program had a world barista judge blind taste a selection of supermarket instant coffees and The House of Robert Timms Café Series 90g Freeze Dried Medium Roast was selected as Australia’s best instant coffee. An honour that de Leeuw says is, “a true endorsement of our quality products”.

So what is the key to building a coffee brand that will stand the test of time? According to de Leeuw, there are three key areas: “Consistency, authenticity and evolution.”

“The key is to remain true to your core and to know what you stand for. In the case of The House of Robert Timms it is to provide a quality cup of coffee consistently. This ensures the ability to build a loyal consumer base.

“Innovation is central to evolution, and bringing new ways to experience and consume coffee.”

This article originally appeared in the December / January issue of C&I Retailing Magazine, which can be read in full here.

Grinding Robert Timms coffee in the 1950s.
Robert Timms coffee has come a long way since the 1960s.

1 thought on “The House of Robert Timms: An Australian icon celebrates 70 years”

  1. We have some Robert Timms memorallia from the 2000 Olympics.
    8 coffee cups and the original big banner.
    Are you interested?
    Please let us know.

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