What’s It All Aboot: The Tim Hortons/Burger King Merger

With apologies to my Canadian friends.

This week’s merger of Canadian coffee-and-donut icon Tim Hortons with the U.S.’s Burger King has our northern neighbors up in arms. OK, that’s probably overstating thing, given the generally reserved nature of Canadians; let’s say “up in eyebrows.”

Hortons was started in the 1970s by Maple Leafs player Tim Horton (note the lack of a possessive in the franchise name; hockey players don’t have time for punctuation). Since then, it has become a Canadian institution, and many customers start the day with a “double-double”—two creams, two sugars. When asked, many in the Great White North talked nostalgically about hitting the shop for a hot chocolate and jelly-filled after a hockey game. You can’t get more stereotypically Canadian than that, unless you replaced the hot chocolate with a Molson’s. Hortons is so much of an institution that politicians do frequent photo ops at the coffee shop to reinforce their regular-guy status and approved spent $4 million ($2 million U.S.) to provide the coffee to soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Some fear Burger King will mess with the Hortons successful and popular business model (no, really—they have business models up north). But what is more representative of the Canadian spirit is not Tim Hortons itself, but the general reaction to the news, which, like a double-double is sweet and mild.

Down here in the Crazy 48, you’d find plenty of angry people ready to jump in front of a camera and make empty threats about boycotting a franchise. Actually, since the move is seen as something of a tax dodge for Burger King, some Americans have already done so. And it won’t be long before U.S. students in Crocs and hemp shirts will be burning Chicken Fries and hurling Whoppers at the King.

Compare that typical American response to that of the “riled up” Canadian. In the NPR report, the correspondent noted that some Canadians were so upset they [gasp] ”refused to make an on-air comment.” Ouch. Vitriolic comments on the CTV.com story ranged from the scathing “very unimpressed, Tim Hortons” to the biting “my reaction is avid indifference.”

I should add that the title of the CTV.com story was Yea or Nay, which comes off as fairly reserved down here. On the other hand, those two terms might come in handy in negotiations. Imagine the reaction of the salesman at the Ford dealership if you turn down the sticker price with a “I say nay” or “Nay way in heck.” And if, when he knocks a thousand bucks (two thousand Canadian) off the price, you respond with an enthusiastic “Yea, now we’re talking!”

All jocularity aside, Tim Hortons is more successful than Burger King. I hope that results in the opening of a franchise down where I live. I bet a double-double coffee would go well with a double-double from In-N-Out Burger.

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