Tim Hortons to ‘refocus on founding values,’ after a tough year

Restaurant Brands International CEO Jose Cil has indicated that changes could be coming to Tim Hortons after announcing disappointing year-end sales results.

Comparable sales were down 1.5% in 2019 compared to 2018, and down 4.3% in the final quarter compared to the same period a year before.

“At Tim Hortons, our performance did not reflect the incredible power of our brand and it is clear that we have a large opportunity to refocus on our founding values and what has made us famous with our guests over the years, which will be the basis for our plan in 2020,” said Cil in a statement.

“Refocus on founding values,” seems like the key phrase here. The last year plus has seen Tim Hortons roll out advertising dripping with Canadiana and seemed specifically intended to resonate with heartland customers.

In December 2018, working with Miami-based creative agency Gut, it brought back its “True Stories” campaign featuring reenactments of real customer stories about poignant moments revolving around Tim Hortons. “These new Tims True Stories will sometimes make you cry or they’ll make you laugh, but most of all, they bring Canadian values to life,” said Paloma Azulay, the then global creative head at Tim Hortons.

In the summer, there was an ad with Canadian pop sensation Shawn Mendes, chosen because he is a “great and modern representation” of the company’s values, generosity and kindness, Azulay told The Message. “He has had such a deep personal relationship with Tim Hortons since his childhood, and now we are proud to share his Canadian origins with the world.”

Another campaign later in the year featured Wayne Gretzky sharing his own story about getting an autograph from the Tim Horton when he was just a boy.

But Tims has also been aggressively experimenting with product innovation and menu experimentation. Most notably, there was the introduction of Beyond Meat products, first for breakfast sandwiches and then burgers. That experiment was first scaled back and then discontinued entirely last month.

In July it introduced an innovation café in the heart of Toronto’s financial district offering six different coffee styles—from pour over, to espressos and nitro lattes—deluxe donut creations like crème brulee and a PB&J option, plus a hot food menu with options including a turkey avocado club and Italian muffaletta, and premium soups like lobster bisque and Thai green curry chicken.

While the store was about experimentation, it still retained the brand’s core values, said Axel Schwan, who was then chief marketing officer and is now the regional president. “Our values are basically a reflection of Canadian values,” he said. “We embrace being warm and welcoming, being inclusive, being generous, having a community spirit.”

The new store concept was a “testing ground to learn fast, and then potentially roll out ideas that work here,” he said. Last month, a line of dream donuts—Dulce de Leche Crème, Strawberry Confetti and Chocolate Truffle—were introduced for stores across the country, complete with an ad using the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goal song (see below).

In the last few weeks, Tim Hortons also brought aboard long-time McDonald’s marketer Hope Bagozzi as CMO, while also confirming that Alex Macedo, who had been president for two years, was handing the reins to Schwan.

And in the last week or so, Tims has also introduced new TV advertising that zeroes in on the essential product at the core of the brand, its coffee. The creative focuses on the coffee experts who work at the Tim Hortons roastery. “We’ve had the same blend since 1964,” says Kevin, a coffee master who has worked with Tim Hortons for 22 years, in one ad. “It’s what makes the Tims taste so unique.”

The message is about quality and craftmanship for those who know their Arabica from their Robusta, combined with a reminder that the coffee itself hasn’t changed.

Dream Donuts ad

David Brown