TORONTO — Look out, Mickey D's: Burger King has ambitious plans for expansion in Canada.
Also read, Lunch is king at Tim Hortons, says parent company.
Two years have passed since Burger King's blockbuster takeover of Tim Hortons, and the fast food giant is now setting its sights on growing its own brand in Canada as it continues to take Tims international, said new Burger King Canada president Eric Hirschhorn.
"We as a company are now ready to take advantage of (and) to fulfil the potential of what Canada could be for our business," he said in an interview.
"And certainly, now that we're so entrenched in Canada with Tim Hortons, we have a much deeper understanding of how big and how important Canada can be for us," said Burger King's former chief marketing officer.
Both Tims and the burger chain have operated under the Restaurant Brands International banner — whose majority shareholder is Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital Partners — since the $12.5-billion takeover deal was completed in December 2014.
Though Burger King has just 281 locations in Canada, Hirschhorn said the company has the potential to be as big as McDonald's is north of the border — where it's the largest burger player by far with 1,400 restaurants.
"It's certainly not out of the question," said Hirschhorn, who worked with Restaurant Brands' chief executive Daniel Schwartz at 3G Capital Partners back when it acquired Burger King in 2010.
"We're pretty ambitious people and we're not all that patient. Our goals and ambitions are very large. We believe this business can be as big as some of our peers," he said.
To that end, Hirschhorn says he has set up a team to work on the expansion and focus on the business in Canada, though he stayed mum on exactly where and how fast the chain's growth would happen.
He did say that a more modern store redesign similar to locations in the U.S. and in some Asian countries would roll out by the end of the year, and that Burger King will introduce more new products to the Canadian market like the Jalapeno Chicken Fries launched this week after runaway success in the U.S.
There's no word yet on whether Burger King hotdogs or the burger-burrito mash-up known as the Whopperrito will also migrate north. But he said there are plans for more breakfast food items in a market virtually owned by McDonald's, Tims and Starbucks due to their popular coffees.
After five years learning all aspects of the burger business at the company's Miami headquarters, Hirschhorn says he jumped at the chance to run the chain in Canada. After all, Restaurant Brands International is headquartered in Oakville.
"It was a no-brainer for me. It's a gem of a market, of a country, of a business opportunity," he said.
He compared Canada to China, Russia, Brazil and India as "equally primed to take off and grow as a major market for us around the world."
And while he acknowledged stiff competition from bigger burger joints including A&W and Wendy's, he said there's still room for more.
"People in Canada love fast food similarly, if not more, than people in the U.S. even," Hirschhorn said, noting the demand for hamburgers has outpaced the growth overall in fast food in Canada.
"We're not fighting a headwind here," he said.
Doug Fisher, president of food consultancy FHG International in Toronto, doesn't see it that way. "Burger King is not so Canadian. It's not relevant except that it bought Tim Hortons," he said.
"There are much better quality products out there. Burger King is a second-rate player when compared to McDonald's and A&W," Fisher added.
Indeed, as A&W and McDonald's waded into the antibiotic-free meat market at a higher price point and self-serve kiosks, Burger King went after value-seeking customers with two-for-$5 sandwiches and 10 chicken nuggets for $1.99.
"Their big innovation in the last year was hotdogs in the U.S. I don't see anything great coming from them," said Fisher.
SOURCE Lisa Wright, Waterloo Region Record
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