Tim Hortons focuses on lunch

As the lunch market war heats up, Tims chases McDonald's and KFC customers

Tim Hortons chief executive Marc Caira wants more Canadians who would usually eat at McDonalds or KFC to try lunch at his restaurants instead.

Attendees of the Tim Hortons annual general meeting in Toronto are served free food and beverages before the start of the meeting (CP)

The CEO said Thursday he’s determined to make the company the lunchtime leader among quick-service food outlets through its growing variety of sandwiches, grilled paninis and other offerings.

“In this low-growth era, you need to aggressively go after these segments because there’s potential to grow,” he said in an interview after the company’s annual meeting in Toronto.

Caira outlined some of his general plans as part of a presentation to shareholders that emphasized the company will enter “a new era” as it nears it’s 50th anniversary later this month.

He said the popular restaurant chain is already making an effort to redefine itself with Canadians as a coffee spot foremost, but also the home of various other items they can’t find elsewhere, like the Extreme Italian sandwich and the steak and cheese panini.

One of the latest menu items is a crispy chicken sandwich that Caira said is a perfect example of how it wants customers to think differently about the brand.

“(You need) to be able to have the consumer realize, ‘Hey, if I’m going to have a crispy chicken, maybe I’ll go to the Tim Hortons, rather than Burger King or KFC,” he said.

“When the market isn’t growing – and it’s not – sometimes the only way you’re going to grow is by stealing from somebody. We’re the biggest in Canada, so we’re the easiest to steal from. We want to give consumers the message that if you’re going to buy a crispy chicken, buy ours.”

Tim Hortons is already making progress, Caira said, citing research from the NPD Group which says the restaurant has been generating lunchtime traffic that’s comparable to McDonalds, its biggest competitor.

Tim Hortons had a 21.8% share of quick-service restaurant traffic in the three months ended in February, which compares to McDonalds’ 21.7% share in the same period, the research found.

While Tim Hortons champions lunch, Caira also wants to focus more on nutrition, emphasizing that his company’s crispy chicken sandwich contains more protein and less fat than comparable offerings.

However, chasing the heath-food market comes with certain expectations.

During the annual meeting, one shareholder urged executives to launch a broader array of gluten-free items, while another suggested that more nutritional options, like a selection of salads or fruits and vegetables, would benefit the company in the future.

Caira told the audience that all of those options would be considered as part of a five-year strategic plan that began this year, but after the meeting, he drew a line emphasizing that Tim Hortons won’t go overboard when it comes to nutrition.

“I don’t want to have a separate menu board that says: ‘These are healthier products.’ To me it’s a holistic strategy across your entire organization,” he said.

“Our responsibility is to make the product as healthy as possible and provide you the information to help you make the right decision. It’s very easy to make (a) donut really, really healthy. The problem is you wouldn’t buy it because there’s no taste.”

While Caira said he’s open to various options, he’s certain the national coffee and doughnut chain needs to move faster to test and launch food items as it faces off against aggressive competitors.

“You will notice continued changes at Tim Hortons,” he told shareholders. “You will notice a heightened sense of urgency.”

Tim Hortons has faced an onslaught of competition from both high-end coffee shops like Starbucks, and fast food chain McDonalds, which entered the coffee market several years ago.

Brands Articles

BMO unveils first campaign from Y&R

A new, employee-built tagline is designed for Canadian and U.S. markets

Supermarket chain battles criticism over World War I ad

Sainsbury's four-minute television spot depicts the 1914 Christmas Truce

Best Buy posts unexpected sales gain, prepares for holiday deals

Best Buy CEO: Holiday deals will be more "balanced and targeted" this year

Frank & Oak gets into home decor with Etsy collection

Menswear retailer experiments with handmade home goods

Ford Canada hits the streets of Montreal in new web series

Brand focuses on one of the most important small car markets: Montreal

Dairy Farmers of Canada and W Network’s cheesy campaign

Holiday effort from m2 targets ‘zestfuls’

Target Canada focuses on holiday sales, then its future

Signs of improvement outlined in the company's third-quarter report

Metro boosts Q4 profit, revenue and same store sales up

Montreal retailer posts $115.6-million profit

Kiip launches white label loyalty solution for brands

Platform helps marketers offer specialized rewards for new or loyal users