Gen X at 40

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David Swick - 17 September 2003 - Halifax Daily News

Going from fresh to frozen

If you are a fan of Tim Hortons, be warned. Frozen doughnuts, fried in a factory near Toronto and trucked 2,000 kilometres, are about to replace fresh, locally made doughnuts at stores in Atlantic Canada. Tim Hortons is being secretive about this major change. No news release has been issued, no celebratory advertising campaign launched.

But franchise operators are busy preparing for the coming change. Franchisee Stephen Breed addressed the issue in an Aug. 25 letter to staff at his outlets in Dartmouth and the airport.

I called Breed on Monday, but have not heard back. Also Monday, I called Andrea Hughes, Tim Hortons manager for Atlantic Canada, at the regional headquarters in Debert. She said she’d phone back, but never did. And the national vice-president of corporate communications for Tim Hortons, Patty Jameson in Oakville, Ont., didn’t called back, either.

Hmm, is there something they don’t want to talk about?

A year ago, Tim Hortons built a 230,000 square-foot plant in Brantford, Ont. It has the capacity to supply all Canadian and U.S. Tim Hortons outlets with doughnuts, cookies and croissants. From one central factory, all Tim Hortons snacks can be shipped to the hinterland.

This follows a U.S. trend toward mega-bakeries that freeze their product, put it on trucks and ship it everywhere else. In upstate New York, one Granny’s Kitchens factory makes more than 1.5 million doughnuts a day.

The frozen doughnuts, cookies and croissants are then resuscitated by staff in local outlets. This can be done by anyone at the press of a button, meaning that bakers —among the best-paid people in doughnut shops — can be laid off.

(This major change in Tim Hortons policy is accompanied, at least in Breed’s outlets, with a policy change affecting what staff eats. Until now they could eat doughnuts for free; from now on they have to pay 50 per cent.)

Frying doughnuts in one megaplant and shipping them thousands of kilometres on trucks is not a move made with customers in mind. And it prompts some serious questions that must be asked.

Will the Tim Hortons motto — Always Fresh — be changed? Those words appear outside almost every outlet, all 74 in metro and more than 2,000 across the country. But is it fair to say “fresh” when a doughnut was fried days, weeks or, maybe, months ago? Does “fresh” mean fresh, or resuscitated? Would continuing to say “fresh” be false advertising?

Last winter, when I first revealed that Tim Hortons was planning to cook their snack foods in Ontario and send them on freezer trucks to Atlantic Canada, national communications VP Jameson attempted to sidestep the issue.

“We have not made any plans,” she said, “that are open for public knowledge.”

That much is true. That Tim Hortons is now putting their plan into action — again without telling us — only underscores the point.

Atlantic Canada has a 25-year love affair with Tim Hortons. For many of us, Tims is our favourite local meeting place. For some of us, it’s our home away from home.

But it’s time to give this hallowed relationship a second thought. If I want a doughnut, I don’t want one cooked near Toronto.

The fact the Tim Hortons corporation is being sneaky about this just makes things worse.