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Aug 2, 2019

Tim Hortons' burger foray takes Beyond Meat bet too far: Experts

Tim Hortons should focus on breakfast instead of chasing lunch: Consultant


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The Beyond Meat craze is heating up as more restaurants add meatless products to their menus, but some analysts say Tim Hortons is one brand that may be taking its plant-based bet a step too far.   

Last month, the coffee-and-doughnut chain announced it’s adding two Beyond Meat burgers at its 4,000 stores across Canada after a positive response to its meatless breakfast sandwiches.

But the move into burgers has some experts puzzled, as the company appears to be straying from its core products into an already-competitive space.

Mark Satov, a business strategist who heads Satov Consultants Inc., says Tim Hortons adding plant-based breakfast sandwiches makes sense because it keeps the brand competitive against other chains serving breakfast. But selling burgers is a different decision altogether, he says.

“That’s a totally different thing, going into the lunch business and competing against McDonald’s, Burger King, A&W, and everybody else who serves burgers,” he told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.

“I just don’t think that’s their brand.”

And despite the new plant-based additions to its menu, it will always stay true to its coffee and baked goods roots, the company says.

“We are also always listening to what our guests would like to see on our menu to ensure we are meeting their changing tastes and preferences,” Tim Hortons said in an emailed statement to BNN Bloomberg

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However, Satov says Tim Hortons should “stick to what they’re good at” and focus on its breakfast battle with brands like McDonald’s Corp. – a rivalry he says it could easily win.

“When you’re fighting a few battles at the same time, you put less emotional energy into each,” he said. “And the battle they’re fighting at breakfast, in my opinion, is much more important than the battle that they’re going to fight at lunch.”

One research analyst who covers Tim Hortons’ parent, Restaurant Brands International Inc. (QSR.TO) – which also owns Burger King and Popeyes – says the impact of the plant-based additions to the coffee chain’s menu will be “relatively limited.”

“Tim Hortons is not known for being a ‘burger destination,’” Peter Sklar, equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a recent report. “Furthermore, the lunch day-part has traditionally been a weaker.”

Sklar added that Canadian consumers looking for a Beyond Meat burger are more likely to gravitate towards A&W over Tim Hortons.  

While Sklar expects the Beyond Meat burgers will have a limited impact at Tims, he says the addition of a plant-based option at Burger King will make a bigger difference where burgers are the main offering. The Impossible Whopper could increase same-store sales – a key metric that measures sales in stores open more than one year – by about 450 basis points in 2020 at Burger King, according to Sklar.

Still, food industry expert Sylvain Charlebois sees the addition of the Beyond Meat burger to Tim Hortons’ menu as a “very small risk,” noting nothing changes operationally because there’s no additional equipment required to prepare the product.    

However, Charlebois cautions that customer service delivery could become a challenge for the company.

“If you offer too much, you will slow down service and therefore people may get disappointed,” Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.

Moreover, the rising popularity of plant-based products is fuelling competition from other brands such as Quebec-based Vegeat, notes Charlebois, who says Tim Hortons may be limiting itself by teaming up with a specific company.   

“When you look at Tim Hortons partnering with Beyond Meat so openly, the question mark I have in my mind is: Is it a good idea to partner with a company, instead of just looking at a product line?

“I’m not convinced it’s the right strategy at this point.”