Holly Crosgrey has been drinking coffee from Tim Hortons Inc. (THI), almost exclusively, for four decades. And she’s not crazy about the possibility of it being acquired by Burger King Worldwide Inc. (BKW)
“I don’t like the idea of an American company buying a Canadian company -- it’s our brand,” Crosgrey, 60, said as she sipped a Tim Hortons coffee with three creams at a food court in downtown Toronto. “Timmy’s is always trying new things, adapting, they always have good service, and you always get your coffee fast no matter how long the lineup is. Burger King may screw it up.”
Burger King, the second-largest U.S. burger chain, agreed to acquire Oakville, Ontario-based Tim Hortons today for about C$12.5 billion ($11.4 billion) in a deal that creates the world’s third-largest fast-food chain and moves its headquarters to Canada.
A U.S.-based fast-food company buying Timmy’s, as the company is known colloquially, has drawn mixed reactions from Canadians. The company’s red and gold logo is a ubiquitous sight across the country, the nicknames for its products (“double-double,” “timbits”) part of the national lexicon and its origins are as Canadian as they come.
Tim Hortons was co-founded by Canadian hockey player Tim Horton in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, then a steel town on the outskirts of Toronto. From offering just coffee and doughnuts in the 1960s at one location, the chain now has more than 3,600 restaurants in Canada and more than 800 in the U.S. The company’s franchised restaurants employ about 96,000 Canadians.
“When I drive by towns and I see a Tim Hortons I think, ‘That place must be a good place to live because, look, they’ve got a Timmy’s!’” said Crosgrey, president of Resources for Canadian Business Owners Inc., a financial-services research and registration firm. “I’m a big Tim Hortons drinker. I don’t want the coffee to change.”
She was sitting with longtime friend Donna Begin, 60, a retired executive assistant who lives in Belleville, an eastern Ontario town with a population of 50,000 where the drive-thru lineup at her local Tim Hortons each morning stretches around the restaurant.
“If they keep it the same, then that’s good,” said Begin, who drinks the chain’s sweet vanilla cappuccinos because she says the beverages at Starbucks are too expensive and the experience isn’t as homey. “They should keep Timmy’s the same for people who want the enjoyment and good conversation that their coffee brings.”
Tim Hortons has been held in American hands before, and was able to keep its Canadian-ness intact. Wendy’s International Inc. bought Tim Hortons in 1995 for $425 million. The coffee chain was spun off in 2006.
The doughnut chain was featured on an episode of the TV series “How I Met Your Mother” and one of the actors in that episode, Jason Priestley, was chosen as a judge in a contest to create a new Tim Hortons doughnut flavor last year.
There’s even controversy about the company’s nickname: is it Timmy’s? Timmies? Tim’s? They’re used interchangeably by lovers of the brand, while a transcript of a February conference call on the company’s website has Chief Executive Officer Marc Caira saying consumers “can enjoy their Timmies” in their home with their single-serve coffee.
“I’m not worried about the fact that it’s an American company,” said Derek Mears, 33, an analyst at Sprott Inc. in Toronto. He was drinking a small dark roast coffee with one milk, no sugar, with two colleagues at the same downtown Tim Hortons location. The chain introduced the coffee variety Aug. 15 to compete with Starbucks Corp.
“I’d be a little more worried about the quality suffering,” Mears said. “The locations, the short wait time, the quality of the coffee -- those are the things I would be more concerned about.”
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