How Tim Hortons is driving trial for its new ice cream

The QSR's latest foray into grocery is positioned around indulgence and it's looking for packaging to attract a premium buyer.


Tim Hortons is hoping brand recognition will help carry its latest foray into retail, which is bringing it to the freezer section.

The QSR is coming to conventional grocers with a five-SKU lineup of ice cream based upon approximations of its coffees, Salted Caramel Iced Capp, Double Chocolate Donut, Birthday Cake Timbits, Apple Fritter and Fruit Explosion muffin.

“Tim Hortons is an emotional brand,” explains Sourabh Malik, VP of CPG at Tim Hortons. “Through the pandemic, we have seen that ice cream and frozen dessert as a category being highly emotional and growing for the consumer. We want a permanent place in the category and believe we have the potential to win.”

That means the QSR is investing in this space permanently, which Malik says is, in part, informed by supply issues during lockdowns. As he tells strategy, retailers are focused on solving their supply chain constraints within the marketplace, and Tims wants to come to shelf efficiently without causing the kind of disruption that would result from an LTO.

The launch process, he says, is based on detailed consumer research, and people associating the brand with indulgent occasions, like its baked goods, and amplifying this both on pack and on social. Tim Hortons first entered CPG when it began selling its coffee in grocery, but has expanded that offering, including into the cereal aisle through a partnership with Post that has resulted in Timbits and Cafe Mocha inspired products.

The QSR opted for the 500ml pints as a means to stand out against competitors like General Mills brand Häagen-Dazs or local favorite Chapman’s, because over the last two years, at home consumption of premium pints is growing the fastest.

The flavour profiles caters to adults, kids and it’s expecting people to pick up more than one flavour, and that it will grow the entire pie, rather than cannibalizing the space.

According to Malik, based on its insights, customers spend 00:32 in the frozen aisle, and that as a brand, it has about two-thirds of that to attract eyeballs.

“The packaging should live together as a cluster, and that’s how red stands out, as it’s our brand identity as well,” he says.

At this moment, “phase one” of the rollout is the packaging itself, rather than a shopper campaign. Wobblers, Malik says, are good tactics to draw attention but that it’s staying away from that for now so retail partners can be focused on efficiencies, and it is also waiting to see if it will do any couponing or other top-of-funnel promotion spending. Malik says if it does introduce a more robust shopper marketing campaign, it will be closer to the summer – for now, promotion is focused on social.

“We are giving retailers four to five weeks to set up the ice cream set for success,” Malik says, adding that it gives consumers enough time to recognize Tim Hortons ice cream at shelf. Also, March Break is around the corner, an occasion to appeal to young families, its core demo.

Similarly, it will come to market with flavour innovations beyond it’s current offerings, depending on how consumers react.

Tim Hortons worked on the ice cream launch with DonerNorth.

Another learning Tim Hortons has applied here from previous expansions is that items inspired by actual restaurant menus perform well. Malik cites Tim Hortons’ chicken soup as an example, which he says has done extremely well, making it a serious player in that category.