The Real Reason People Stopped Buying Tim Hortons' Buffalo Latte

Some may remember the brief lifespan of Tim Hortons' Buffalo Latte. Announced on Oct. 12, 2017, it consisted, as the Lexington Herald-Reader hesitantly described, of "espresso, steamed milk, mocha, and ... Buffalo 'sauce flavor.'" Its top also boasted a sprinkling of Buffalo seasoning.

The flavor combination quickly spread throughout food media via a series of articles attempting in text form to vomit their disgust onto the page. Eater gave the drink a 6.5 on its Ridiculous Novelty Beverage Scale. Reasons for it scoring so well include the flavor combination, the fact that it looked like a pumpkin spiced latte but tasted of poultry, and that the author could imagine Justin Bieber drinking one. However, due to the facts that the presentation looked normal — it was contained in a regular Tim Hortons cup — and it did not lean into the conceit enough, i.e. not including any other Buffalo wing element, the drink could score no higher.

It ended its scoring on the "time will tell" note. And, time has told. The drink no longer appears in the specialty hold drinks section of Tim Hortons' menu. Nor is there any indication that attention was paid to it beyond Oct. 12 and 13. This is because, as The Global News reported at the time, the Buffalo Latte was a limited edition item. However, it is doubtful that Tim Hortons really intended to sell the drink, even as a limited edition item, as the whole venture reads as a headline-grabbing gimmick.

Tim Hortons' weird new drink wasn't destined to become a menu staple

The Buffalo Latte only appeared in Buffalo, New York, because that's where Buffalo wings come from. As Stephen Goldstein, the regional president for Tim Hortons in the United States, explained in the press release for the new drink, both Tim Hortons and Buffalo sauce were born in 1964, so they wanted to combine the classic Buffalo dish with Tim Hortons to celebrate the American city that first housed the Canadian brand.

As a quick check on Menus with Prices shows, however, even if we circumscribe our search for the Buffalo Latte to Buffalo, we fail to find the drink. Rather, the sole purpose seems to catch attention with Goldstein's insistence that, "The unlikely pairing of sweet mocha and tangy Buffalo sauce come together to create an unexpectedly delicious sweet and spicy treat we hope our guests will enjoy."

Talking to Munchies, Rebecca Lee, manager of one of the two locations to sell the Buffalo Latte, noted that such apparently bizarre products play a part in Tim Hortons' general strategy: "For Mother's Day, we did a doughnut bouquet. For Canada Day, we did a poutine doughnut. We really want to spark customer interest." However, the customer interest would be in the brand, as opposed to the product, as Lee admitted that launch day sales of the Buffalo Latte proved poor. "We've sold one latte." Considering that Tim Hortons wanted to sell hot milky chicken wing sauce, this couldn't have come as too much of a surprise. 

The Buffalo Latte only existed to boost the new espressos

Obviously, if Tim Hortons introduced a latte flavor that nobody would want, it would be to draw attention to something they would want. In this case, it was to alert customers of their recently released espresso and latte selections. As The Street commented when opening its piece on the Buffalo Latte, "Tim Hortons ... is celebrating a new lineup of espresso drinks in an unusual way — it has introduced the Buffalo latte."

Outlets would barely mention the new pumpkin spiced latte and readers would be unlikely to click on an article or interact with a social media post about something so prosaic. However, by introducing a revolting mess, Tim Hortons, in BroBible's description, has engaged in the Taco Bell practice of attempting to create viral content. This means that people would actually grow aware that Tim Hortons offered a new selection of lattes, even if they came across the information via a drink that very few would want, even as a novelty.

For those curious about how it tasted, The Buffalo News reviewed the drink, saying "the new specialty latte is surprisingly drinkable. The heat is subtle and emerges at the end of each sip; it's not a jarring flavor like if you were drinking a messy blend of espresso and Frank's Hot Sauce, or if you dipped a chicken wing in a glass of hot chocolate milk." Faint praise indeed. However, Tim Hortons was probably pleased with the publicity.