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Sixty years on, Tim Hortons is synonymous with Canada, but still chasing growth



As Tim Hortons celebrated the New Year, it did so with a nod to its origins, bringing back classic doughnuts like the Dutchie and blueberry fritter. This nostalgic move set the stage for the company’s 60th anniversary, a milestone reflecting its evolution since hockey star Tim Horton opened the first shop in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1964.


Today, Tim Hortons boasts thousands of locations worldwide, from Canada to China and India. Its menu has expanded well beyond coffee and doughnuts, now featuring rice bowls, sparkling fruit drinks, and flatbread pizzas. This growth has made Tim Hortons an integral part of Canadian culture, yet it faces the challenge of continuing to expand.


Axel Schwan, president of Tim Hortons' Canadian and U.S. operations, is focused on attracting more customers beyond breakfast, where the chain holds half the market share. “Achieving similar market share throughout the day will take time, but that's okay,” Schwan said.


Midday and evening customers are seen as particularly valuable because they typically spend more, though they don't visit as frequently as breakfast customers. The competitive Canadian fast-food market, set to become even more crowded with newcomers like Shake Shack and Jimmy John's, adds to this challenge.


Tim Hortons has traditionally relied on the affordability of its offerings to stay competitive, but rivals are adopting similar strategies. Despite these pressures, analysts believe the brand remains robust. Danilo Gargiulo of Bernstein suggested that Tim Hortons has the potential to become the "McDonald's of Canada" if it balances profitability and quality.


Under Schwan's leadership, the chain has pursued a "back to basics" approach, enhancing its coffee quality and doughnut recipes. Despite these improvements, there are still areas for enhancement, such as customer complaints about doughnut packaging and the spread of cream cheese on bagels.


With 4,000 of its 5,800 stores in Canada, Tim Hortons has struggled more with international expansion, facing stiff competition and the need to build brand awareness. In China, for instance, local coffee chains offer significant competition.


Looking ahead, experts suggest Tim Hortons could boost growth through technology and cold beverages. Innovations like AI ordering systems and breakfast smoothies or protein shakes could attract younger customers and diversify its offerings.


Schwan emphasized the importance of customer feedback in guiding new menu items. “It's always about listening to Canadians," he said. "What would they love to see from us?"


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