Tim Hortons’ reputation plummets in new survey — why Canadians may be fed up

Click to play video: 'Is the Tim Hortons’ brand permanently coffee stained?'
Is the Tim Hortons’ brand permanently coffee stained?
WATCH: Is the Tim Hortons' brand permanently coffee stained? – Feb 28, 2018

Tim Hortons’ reputation has taken a hit, according to a new survey, and experts believe it’s linked to its reduction in employee benefits.

Every year Leger research group releases the top 10 companies or brands in Canada — and Tim Hortons usually makes the list. However, not only did the company fall off the top 10 list this year, it experienced a massive drop.

READ MORE: Why the Tim Hortons controversy has hit such a nerve with Canadians

Google, Shoppers Drug Mart, Dollarama and Canadian Tire were some of the top admired companies in Canada, according to the survey.

Tim Hortons fell to no. 50 for 2018, down from no. 4 in 2017.

“That is a very pronounced drop,” Christo Aivalis, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s department of history said. And Aivalis believes this isn’t a coincidence.

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The poor ranking comes as the survey was conducted in December and January, just as the company was facing a significant backlash over the fair wage controversy in Ontario. The province hiked its minimum wage on Jan. 1.

LISTEN: Poll shows Canadians are falling out of love with Tim Horton’s

In January, franchise owners in Cobourg and Kingston, Ont., told their workers they were eliminating paid breaks and some benefits in response to the province’s minimum wage hike.

This caused a major backlash across social media and prompted an online movement called “No Timmys Tuesday” which encouraged Canadians to buy their brew from independent coffee shops. Canadians across the country also planned many protests outside Tim Hortons, demanding justice for employees.

“We are committed to providing our guests who we serve across the country every day with the very best experience,” said a Tim Hortons spokesperson, in response to a Global News request for comment on the ranking.

“We are confident that we have a strong plan and a positive agenda to continue to evolve our brand and meet the needs of our guests for years to come.”

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Canadians trusted Tim Hortons

“It’s always multi-faceted and can’t point to one thing in totality,” Aivalis said. “But I do think the whole debacle about how the franchise handled the minimum wage had an impact.”

He said Tim Hortons is held to a higher expectation to the public because of its “Canadian image.”

READ MORE: Tim Hortons protests planned across Canada in solidarity with Ontario workers

“The company has a Canadian identity, and we’re proud, if it’s about cold winters and hockey,” Aivalis said. Because of this, Canadians may think Tim Hortons employees should be treated well.

“It creates a disappointment with the brand,” he added. “I think a lot of Canadians think fair pay is what Canada is about and Tim Hortons is not providing that.”

Dave Scholz, executive vice president at Leger, agrees. He said respondents in the survey rank service as a number one factor in determining a brand’s reputation, but number two is trust and transparency — and he said that is where Tim Hortons failed.

WATCH: Cuts to Ontario Tim Hortons workers’ benefits draws large protest

Click to play video: 'Cuts to Cobourg Tim Hortons workers’ benefits draws large protest'
Cuts to Cobourg Tim Hortons workers’ benefits draws large protest

“And that is the breach we felt we had this January … and it was felt all over Canada, not just Ontario,” he said. “As Canadians, we have a hard time relating to companies that do this. We want to see the person give us a double-double being treated fairly.”

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He said this is exactly what happened to Sears Canada this year. The survey said the company dropped 61 spots in brand reputation, which is the largest drop Leger has seen.

“Yes, they closed, but they also have their executives getting bonuses at the same time they were cutting pensions,” he said.

Trust and transparency were lost, Scholz added.

Other factors at play

Of course, other factors, such as competition in the coffee business, could contribute to a lower ranking, Aivalis said. For example, consumers may be heading to Starbucks, McDonald’s or their local coffee shop, instead.

But Aivalis believes the coffee issue can’t be a majority of the problem — and the brand probably took a hit because of how the company is perceived to treat its employees.

READ MORE: 11 things you didn’t know about Tim Hortons

If Tim Hortons is looking for a way to recover its reputation, he believes promoting a healthy employee culture may do the trick.

“A lot of people are concerned about jobs, as a lot of traditional ones are disappearing … but fast food jobs are still there. Tim Hortons could make a corporate policy to institute minimum labour standards … fair pay and paid breaks. The public may see it as goodwill and it may help with its reputation.”

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This Leger poll was an online survey of 2,100 Canadians conducted between Dec. 19, 2017 – Jan. 29, 2018.  The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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