New doughnuts irritate Tim Hortons icon

"I [Jameson] am the official spokesperson, and until I confirm or deny anything, it simply doesn't exist," she said Tuesday…"I'm disappointed in senior management, truly disappointed," he said. "They should have come out right of the closet and said, 'We are going into a new method of producing our product and we think they're going to be better and they're going to be fresher.' "

The Calgary Herald
October 23, 2003

New doughnuts irritate Tim Hortons icon
Deborah Tetley

Nearly 40 years ago, Ron Joyce opened one little doughnut and coffee shop in Hamilton, Ont., and watched as it evolved over the years into a Canadian icon, recognized around the world for its commitment to community, freshness and quality.

Today, the Calgary co-founder is selling off his remaining two million shares, is disappointed with the chain's new approach to his Always Fresh philosophy, and is blasting senior management for not being "frank and open" with customers.

In the wake of consumer backlash over Tim Hortons' new frozen doughnuts, Joyce told the Herald on Wednesday he is saddened to hear some consumers are threatening to boycott.

"Of course, it bothers me," he said while en route to charter a private plane, his personal assistant at the wheel of his Lincoln.

"This is not a philosophy I would have embraced if I still owned the company. I am annoyed and frustrated when I hear we're losing customers. However, whether or not I agree with the philosophy is irrelevant."

Joyce, who started the company with a $10,000 credit union loan and who sold the company to Wendy's in 1995 for $620 million, confirmed what consumers and store owners have been saying for several months and officials at head office would not — the doughnuts are being fried in a factory in Brantford, Ont., packaged, frozen and shipped to regional warehouses. Once in store, the already "95 per cent cooked" product is baked in an oven and served.

"I've tried them and they're certainly not the same as the other product," he said, adding all 164 Alberta stores are on board and roughly 400 across Canada are still awaiting the rollout. "But these are the doughnuts of the future."

Customers have noticed a difference in size, taste and texture of the product and have voiced their outrage on the Internet, in letters to the company and in the media.

"Remember New Coke?" Calgarian Doug Wong wrote in a recent letter to Tim's head office in Oakville, Ont. "You should know by now that all the clever marketing in the world won't win back your customers if the product doesn't taste good. The (company) should have considered private testing instead of making guinea pigs out of the general public."

In some ways, Joyce regrets selling the chain. "It bothers me I don't have any power any more," said Joyce, who divides his time between Calgary, Nova Scotia and Ontario. "I sold something I loved very much and I really strongly believed the people involved, who I hired and trained, had the same philosophy and concept and idea of freshness that I did. Never was it in my vocabulary to go to this product."

Until Wednesday, Patti Jameson, vice-president of corporate communications, would only say the company is conducting tests.

"I am the official spokesperson, and until I confirm or deny anything, it simply doesn't exist," she said Tuesday.

By Wednesday, after learning of Joyce's comments, Bill Moir, executive vice-president of marketing, said Tim's wasn't trying to keep secrets from its customers, just from the competition.

Joyce said, regardless, the customers deserve to know what's happening.

"I'm disappointed in senior management, truly disappointed," he said. "They should have come out right of the closet and said, 'We are going into a new method of producing our product and we think they're going to be better and they're going to be fresher.' "

Joyce, who won Canada's entrepreneur of the year award in 1999, said about 30 years ago he researched a frozen doughnut being manufactured in New Jersey and considered buying into the idea as a means to eventually save money for the company, reduce waste and still deliver a tasty pastry.

In the end, though, his Always Fresh motto was the only message that resonated.

Joyce, who co-owned the Calgary Flames from 1994 to 2001, said he is not divesting his remaining 2.1 million shares as a result of the changes, rather the move is part of his estate planning. He and former NHL hockey star Tim Horton, who died in a car accident in 1975, founded the chain.

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