Business

Tim Hortons pulls Beyond Meat products from Canadian locations outside B.C., Ontario

Tim Hortons is pulling Beyond Meat products from Canadian locations outside Ontario and B.C., but the parent company of the fast-food chain says it may bring the plant-based protein foods back later if there's enough demand.

Plant-based protein burgers, breakfast sandwiches were introduced as 'limited time offer,' parent company says

Beyond Burger — which Tim Hortons added to its menu in July — will still be available for a limited time across the country, but the Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches are available in various regions while supplies last, and thereafter will only be sold in B.C. and Ontario, the chain's parent company says. (Tim Hortons)

Tim Hortons will no longer offer Beyond Meat products at its eateries outside Ontario and B.C.

"We are always listening to our guests and testing a wide variety of products across the country," Restaurant Brands International (RBI), the parent company of Tim Hortons, wrote in an email to CBC News.

"Both the Beyond Burger and Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches were introduced as a limited time offer. We have particularly seen positive reaction to our Beyond Meat offering in Ontario and B.C., especially in breakfast, and are proud to offer both alternatives in those regions."

RBI said the Beyond Burger —  which the chain added to its menu to much fanfare in July — will still be available for a limited time across the country. The Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches are available in various regions while supplies last, but after that will continue to be sold only in B.C. and Ontario.

The popularity of plant-based products in general, and Beyond Meat in particular, has soared over the past 18 months or so. Just weeks after it started selling its Beyond Meat burger in July 2018, there were reports A&W completely sold out of the product nationwide.

Not long afterwards, Beyond Meat products started popping up at other quick-serve restaurant chains, including Tim Hortons and Subway, as well as grocery stores.

Plant-based eating trend

But plant-based proteins — or even proteins in general — aren't part of the core business of Tim Hortons, said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab, and professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"Timmies is all about coffee, doughnuts and muffins. They just rode on this Beyond Meat bandwagon, and that's dangerous because they tried to capitalize on a brand and not necessarily a product," he said.

"It's like the pizza at McDonald's. It was a disaster back in the '80s because nobody goes to McDonald's to eat pizza."

Charlebois said his data shows B.C. has the highest rate of veganism in the country and Ontario has the highest rate of vegetarianism, which may explain the decision to continue offering Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches in those provinces.

Beyond Meat was at first only sold in fast-food chains, but the plant-based food is now in various grocery and health-food stores. (Beyond Meat)

"I was a bit surprised by Quebec because in Quebec, the Beyond Meat product is selling very well in retail stores, but I guess Quebecers just didn't want to buy it in a restaurant," said Charlebois.

He said the decision is a blow for Beyond Meat.

"Beyond Meat's strategy is all about developing channels to connect with the public. They don't spend a dime on publicity or marketing. Zero. They just capitalize in their relationships with franchises in order to sell their products.

"It's a bit dangerous to do that because if someone pulls [the product], like a major restaurant chain like Tim Hortons, that's going to send the wrong signal to Canadians or to the public."

Beyond Meat also faces increased competition from other companies, including Impossible Foods, which has a deal with Burger King to sell its plant-based burgers in the U.S. Like Tim Hortons, Burger King is owned by RBI.

Recently, some health experts have questioned Beyond Meat's claims its burgers are healthier than a traditional beef hamburger.

None of this, however, has greatly affected Beyond Meat's stock, which is up more than 500 per cent since its IPO last May.

Charlebois said that's because plant-based foods continue to show impressive growth.

"I don't think it's the end of plant-based dieting. I think [Tim Hortons] is just re-evaluating its menu. Bear in mind that since RBI bought Tim Hortons, they've been trying all sorts of different products and they've pulled several products. Beyond Meat is just the latest one."

For its part, Beyond Meat said its products in Tim Hortons locations in Ontario and B.C. "have seen particularly positive reception.

"These menu items were introduced as limited time offerings and may be brought back in the future," the company said in a statement.

RBI also confirmed that possibility.

"We may explore offering the product again in other provinces at a future date based on ongoing guest feedback." 

About the Author

Aaron Saltzman

Senior Reporter, Consumer Affairs

Aaron Saltzman is CBC's Senior Business Reporter. Tips/Story ideas always welcome. aaron.saltzman@cbc.ca twitter.com/cbcsaltzman

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