Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday April 21, 2018
How Tim Hortons lost its connection with the Canadian public
Léger and National Public Relations last week released their annual report ranking Canada’s most admired companies. While some results were indeed surprising, others were not.
Both Google and Shoppers Drug Mart (owned by Loblaw) ended up at the top of the overall rankings, as well as the leaders in their sectors. Google has been No. 1 for six years now. It was surprising to see that eighth-place Kellogg’s is the most respected food company in Canada. Campbell and Kraft, two other food companies, closed out the top 10. Despite bread-price collusion accusations, Sobeys moved up 10 places and remained the most admired grocer, while Subway was recognized in the food service category.
But Tim Hortons’ year was just plain awful. It went from No. 4 to No. 50 in just 12 months. This significant free fall can be linked to the very public spat between Tim Hortons franchisees and the Tim Hortons parent company, Restaurant Brands International (RBI). This dispute has taken its toll and likely affected the reputation of the iconic Canadian company.
RBI has been at war with Tim Hortons franchisees since 2014 when the holding company was created, and things have gotten progressively worse. While franchise owners – family businesses, really – were committed to serving communities, RBI swooped in with an efficiency-driven agenda. Menu changes, royalty structure modifications, higher costs of supplies to operate outlets – all were revised to serve RBI’s shareholders, and it paid off. The share price hit a record high last October of $85.
RBI’s ultimate commitment has been to its shareholders and not necessarily to the Canadian public. This year’s Léger-National rankings confirm that Canadians have been keeping tabs.
But RBI’s profit-driven agenda has started to work against it over this past year. Rallies to raise awareness of minimum-wage campaigns made Tim Hortons a public target right across the country. To make matters worse, reports surfaced suggesting that in Ontario, where the minimum wage increased by 22 per cent on Jan. 1, some Tim Hortons employees had been asked to pay for uniforms and cut out breaks. While other food chains were adapting well, the rift between RBI and its franchise owners in Ontario became even more evident to the public.
Now sales are slumping, and as a result, RBI shares have fallen to about $70. RBI’s response is to invest $700-million over the next four years, including a change to the interior design in all of its Tim Hortons restaurants. But here’s the catch: Most franchise owners will be required to pay more than $450,000 per outlet to support the cost of renovation and create an open-seating concept. Given that the average Tim Hortons franchisee owns three outlets, the cost to support RBI’s new redesign strategy will be well more than $1-million for a typical franchise owner. (Continued: Globe & Mail)