Tim Hortons – Canada’s Darling?

There’s nothing more Canadian than hockey, a donut, and a hot cup of coffee. It’s the best of Canada. Or is it?

Most people are unaware that Tim Hortons is no longer a Canadian company. They were acquired by Burger King in 2014 and the donut and coffee franchise is now majority-owned by a Brazilian investment firm. But even with this information readily at hand, it doesn’t seem to matter. Since opening in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964 by its puck wielding namesake, Tim Hortons has been Canada’s little darling. Yes, it’s owned by a company south of the American border, but the brand resides in the north.

When I think of Tim Hortons, I round-up images of my childhood – a solid brand can do that. Think of McDonald’s. If you’re over 30, you might remember having your birthday party under the golden arches. Or scoring a Happy Meal after getting an A+ on the big math test. I can’t seem to shake these moments I had as a child. And although Tim Hortons has benefited from these moments, there is a difference between them and McDonald’s. For both, these memories are based on nostalgia, but only one has them tied to our ideals.

Similarly, when you think about Canada and America, we might be two nations only separated by an imaginary line on a map, but we can all agree there are differences. The biggest of those differences, in my opinion, is selflessness. The ideal that we take care of each other in Canada is engrained in us from birth. I grew up knowing that healthcare was a right, not a privilege. That this is a country that welcomes diversity. And that those in need, no matter their status, deserved our empathy and generosity. This generosity to our fellow Canadians is what we believe, what we live, and what we stand on guard for. This is the best of Canada. This is our brand.

In the last few days, we have seen reports emerge that some Tim Hortons locations have decided to go against our ideals as a nation. With a minimum wage increase in Ontario, it has “apparently” made it harder for some franchise owners to do business. Several locations have decided to take away benefits from their employees due to their wage increase – employees making 200 times less than many Canadian CEOs. I think you can gauge just where I stand on this matter – but right now we’re talking brand.

So what happens when a Canadian company that has banked on the country’s ideals for decades decides to go off the Canadian brand? Do you get to be Canada’s darling if you don’t act like the best of Canada? Maybe us Canucks don’t care anymore? We do tend to shop for value, another big difference between Canadian and American shoppers. We look at price and search for the best bang for our buck. This could be beneficial to Tim Hortons as their fare is reasonably priced. But quality wise, it’s not what it once was.

Local bakeries and coffee shops have popped up all over Ontario, and quality seems to be the bare minimum when it comes to their business model. After all, if you’re not selling something people want, why be in business? These companies focus on culture, community, employee engagement, paying living wages – everything above and beyond a hot cup of joe. Branding is about an experience that doesn’t just end at the drive-thru. And many of these mom and pop shops understand that. They live the Canadian brand.

As we’ve seen with Sears and Toys “R” Us, a brand can’t continue to fuel itself on nostalgia alone. Ideology trumps nostalgia. Tim Hortons may for the moment be our darling, but that darling has stiff competition that’s steeped in Canadian values.


When Chris steps into a meeting, he pushes the strategy right out of the box and into the emotional realm. With every project, he aims to generate emotion and capture the long lasting brand allegiance of the audience. His experienced eye for design, and a passion for storytelling drives the creative team to do their best work every day.

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This post was written by Chris

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