Post Foods Canada and Tim Hortons have joined together to release Timbit cereal. (Post Foods Canada/Facebook)

Timbits cereal a novelty, but may dilute Tim Hortons brand, experts say

The expansion into the cereal aisle seeks to introduce sugar-loving tots to the Tim Hortons brand

Once best known for coffee and baked goods, the offerings at Tim Hortons offerings today boast ground coffee, made-to-order sandwiches and gourmet doughnut flavours. In the latest foray beyond the brand’s roots, the humble Timbit wants a home in Canadians’ breakfast bowls.

The expansion into the cereal aisle seeks to introduce sugar-loving tots to the Tim Hortons brand with Timbits cereal, but experts say this continued diversification may leave consumer confused about what the coffee chain’s brand represents. Cereal-maker Post Foods Canada Inc. may fall on the winning side of the partnership, they suggest.

Building loyalty with the next generation of consumers is important for a brand with as many “fanatics” as Tim Hortons, said David Soberman, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. The company needs to corner young Canadians now to maintain its position in the market for years to come.

The new product — a partnership with Post, purveyor of cereals such as Oreo O’s and Honey Maid S’mores — is geared toward a younger audience, he said. Kids love Timbits, and children begging for the new cereal now will theoretically evolve into loyal Tim Hortons customers as they get older.

That’s likely the intended outcome, Soberman said, but the launch could also dilute the brand’s image as a go-to for the best coffee and doughnuts in the country.

“There’s a confusion as to what the brand is,” he said. “This is even a further example of that.”

In recent years the company has battled a spate of negative news as it faced off with a dissident group of franchisees that accused the chain’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, of mismanagement. Tim Hortons watched its reputation slip in the court of public opinion and its earnings stall.

RBI CEO Jose Cil recently said earnings were “not where we want them to be” at the chain. For its most recent quarter, RBI reported comparable sales, a key retail metric, at Tim Hortons fell 1.2 per cent in Canada and system-wide sales in the country dropped by 0.1 per cent, according to financial documents.

A bevy of pilot programs and product launches arrived in an effort to boost sales.

READ MORE: Leave the resolutions behind, Tim Hortons releases Timbit cereal

Whether that quest for sales led the company to extend its reach too far is a topic of frequent discussion among the faculty of Centennial College’s food media program, said the program’s culinary ambassador Rodney Bowers.

Tim Hortons targeted young, urban professionals with its Innovation Cafe in downtown Toronto, pouring nitro coffee and serving premium doughnuts and sandwiches.

It launched several of its soups and chili in supermarkets. It trialled Beyond Meat burgers and breakfast sandwiches, eventually dropping the burger and keeping the plant-based protein breakfast option in select locations.

All that happened in 2019.

“Can you be all the things to all the people and still be a strong brand?” asked Bowers.

The latest Timbit cereal innovation is ”completely polar opposite to the last big splash they made” putting plant-based proteins on the menu. One promotes a seemingly healthier plant-based meal, while the other offers a sugary breakfast option.

Tim Hortons deferred inquiries about the cereal to Post Foods, and did not respond to emailed questions about why it decided to collaborate with the cereal maker or the nature of the partnership.

“The grocery and retail business is a small and exciting part of our overall business and although you will see us launch new products from time to time, our focus remains on growth through our famous, core categories,” spokeswoman Sarah McConnell said in an emailed statement.

Post Foods was unable to make anyone available for an interview or answer questions via email by deadline.

A Post Foods Canada statement announcing the product indicates that the company has licensed the Timbits registered trademark from Tim Hortons. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The winner in this arrangement appears to be Post Foods, said Bowers, in acquiring the right to use such a well-known symbol — the Timbit — in its cereal.

Every category within a grocery store depends on innovation to grow sales and protect shelf space, said Braden Douglas, a founding partner of Surrey-based Crew Marketing Partners.

Grocery stores allot a certain amount of shelf space to each company, but new entrants sometimes crowd out existing products. Companies innovate, in part, to avoid the label of poor performer and having their shelf space reduced.

Consumers will jump at the chance to try the doughnut-hole breakfast, he predicted, but it’s unlikely many will add it to their regular breakfast repertoire.

Consumer trends toward healthier eating work against the novelty product. One cup of the birthday cake flavour packs 130 calories and 13 grams of sugar, while the same portion of the chocolate glazed variety runs 140 calories and 17 grams of sugar, according to Post’s website.

As well, the way people eat breakfast has changed, Douglas said, with “so many alternatives” available, such as cereal bars, handy grab-and-go options and more convenient places for people to pick up their first meal of the day.

Douglas believes the product will be “an in-and-out innovation” — around for a few years and then fade out.

“In a year or two, I don’t think you’re going to see it on shelves anywhere … because it’s not in line with health trends and what’s going on with consumers anyways.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Kelowna Rockets?

This quiz challenges the knowledge of those who claim to be the biggest Rockets fans

12-year-old Kelowna resident celebrates birthday with help of community

The community greeted Kate Pauling with ballons, banners and gifts along her paper route on Friday

COVID-19: More infected passengers on planes flying to and from Okanagan and Kamloops airports

The BC Centre of Disease Control has identified numerous flights with COVID-19 cases

‘Better days will return’: Queen Elizabeth delivers message amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Queen said crisis reminds her of her first address during World War II in 1940

UPDATE: Coronavirus concerns prompt event cancellations across the Okanagan

This is a running list of events cancelled across the Okanagan

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

COVID-19: Hospitals remain safe for childbirth, say Vancouver Island care providers

North Island Hospital has been asked to share its perinatal COVID-19 response plan

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

Okanagan nordic centre loses out on 2021 nationals

Sovereign Lake near Vernon was to host 2020 Canadian championships, canceled due to COVID-19

COVID-19: North Okanagan spring leagues wiped out

Ladies softball, indoor and beach volleyball leagues shut down over pandemic

Most Read