Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tim Hortons: Hiding Behind A Façade of Corporate Citizenship

Tim Horton’s is an iconic Canadian brand, known for its doughnuts and signature coffee that I’ve recently learned is a top secret recipe known only by three people.  Indeed, it’s critical for Tim Horton’s to keep this intellectual property out of the hands of competitors especially given the fact that many visitors to  Canada liken the coffee to the liquid that would ring out of soaked dirty dress socks. 

This past week, I attended a presentation by the manager of sustainability at Tim Horton’s that outlined the many impressive initiatives the company pursues across social, ecological and economic dimensions.  They have a coffee partnership with coffee farmers, an aboriginal community initiative called Horizons, LEED-certified retail stores, an alternative hen housing system for 12 million sourced eggs, and millions of dollars donated to various charities including Timbits Sports.

But there were a few things that left me puzzled.

Canada’s largest fast food service chain touts the range of healthy options they provide consumers.  Yogurt, soups, sandwiches and “fresh” fruit smoothies.  An added benefit is that the smoothies are void of any fibre and protein, which we all know are two destructive ingredients to the human body.

Wait, what? 

No fibre or protein in the smoothie means that Tim Horton’s doesn’t put any fresh fruit into the blender.  Nope, why use fresh fruit when they can just use purees and juices, which slow down the pace at which consumers assimilate the sugar that fruit naturally contains.  No doubt our society is facing a major epidemic of skinniness because we are assimilating sugar too quickly.  So thank you Tim Horton’s for doing your part to slow things down and fatten us up a bit. 

So what if the Smoothies’ 30 grams of sugar is more than the sugar content of a Tim Horton’s doughnut!  In comparison to all those sugary drinks and sports drinks on the market today, Tim Horton’s smoothies are technically healthier.  I can just see the marketing slogan now, “Drink Tim Horton’s Smoothies, we only shorten your life by 15 years not 20 like leading competitor brands”, or how about, “Tim Horton’s Smoothies, not as bad as soda”.  

Then there is the yogurt.  Plain Greek yogurt has 6.5 grams of sugar per 6 ounces of yogurt while regular plain yogurt has 12 grams of sugar per 6 ounces.  Tim Horton’s yogurt has 25 grams of sugar per 6 ounces of yogurt.  To put this into perspective, a can of Coca-Cola has 19.5 grams of sugar per 6 ounce.  Or take something of similar substance to yogurt like chocolate pudding.  There are approximately 30 grams of sugar per 6 ounces of chocolate pudding.  You mean to tell me that all this time I’ve been eating yogurt and fruit when I could have been eating chocolate pudding?!?!

But nothing shows Tim Hortons “commitment” to the community than its Smile Cookie program.  At the beginning of a video clip I posted below, the caption reads: “Tim Horton’s believes it has a positive role to play in enabling communities to thrive and grow”. 

The once a year event sees franchise owners bake and sell chocolate chip cookies with icing happy faces.   100% of the proceeds go to over 500 charities. The charity chosen by the franchisee in the video is…

Wait for it…

Here it comes…

“Nutrition for Learning”. 

Later in the video, Brian Banks, Community Development Officer of Nutrition for Learning, struggles with the hypocrisy of the whole initiative when he says, “Nutrition for learning is all about enhancing the ability of every student to get a proper education by having the proper nutrition throughout the day”. 
There are comedians out there praising their own god for this sort of hypocrisy because they honestly couldn’t write anything better than this.  The video continues with: “Over 3200 students will have the proper nutrition throughout the day to make sure that they can focus on learning”. 

Are you kidding me????!!!?!?!? 

Let me put this simply:  You’re selling cookies – the same sort of products that dominate the shelves in your 4592 stores across Canada that likely have the same or similar nutritional value as your unhealthiest donuts that contribute to a national obesity epidemic – to raise money for nutritional education among children.  Do you realize how hilarious this is? 

The Smile Cookie Program is like Air Canada giving away free flights to help educate air travelers of the worst possible service experience in the airline industry.  Or AT&T or Verizon in the US or Rogers and Bell in Canada contributing a portion of their internet service fees to fund a consumer education program about how much consumers “get it up the ass” on a consistent basis from the telecommunications industry.

Here’s some advice Tim Horton’s…how about you shift the program to one where you try to sell as many cookies as possible to show the negative effects of these cookies on society as the means by which you educate children.

In other words, sell the cookies to show children that you really shouldn't eat these cookies!

Here's the video, that will surely warm your heart.

What gets me the most about Tim Horton’s is that they proclaim to be a company that delivers quality products to communities.  But do we understand the real impact that Tim Horton’s has on their communities?  They use a classic profit distribution approach to corporate citizenship where they make huge sums of money off the backs of the obese and then use part of that money to resolve any pent up guilt or stakeholder pressure to stop by contributing money to charity. 

This is no different from my post on CIBC’s Run for the Cure program where the bank claims to support cancer research yet continues to provide capital to the very companies producing or emitting the chemicals that cause cancer.   Tim Horton’s has done a great job at marketing a façade of corporate citizenship that masks their underlying business model which, unfortunately, will go down in history as one of the major contributors to Canadian obesity in the 21st century. 

I get very frustrated as a business professor when companies aim to have their pie and eat it too in the sense that they get to bathe in the profits that come from their core operations that cause harm to society yet at the same time disguise this very act through impressive marketing campaigns that show how wonderful they are to the community.

At the end of the day, I don’t mind that there are companies out there that provide consumers with unhealthy food or toxic products that leach into their bodies, or banks that loan to dirty companies.  What gets me is when trained marketers of these very companies – or more egregious the social responsibility employees in these marketing departments – create the image in the minds of consumers that they have made dramatic improvements and that they are taking sustainability and social responsibility seriously. 

That’s the problem. 

There is no doubt in my mind that when looking at the net impact companies have on society, those that are honest and transparent about who they are and what they represent, even if they produce toxic products, are better for society than those who are dishonest about who they really are.  In other words, Harvey’s doesn’t hide the fact that they are the unhealthy option but a company like Tim Horton’s, in their broad market pitch about community commitment, is dishonest about its role in society when you net out the negative effect of their products with their seemingly positive effects of the charity programs and social responsibility efforts. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I’m Starving!

Last Thursday afternoon, having forgotten my lunch at home, I spent an hour trying to find something to eat.  I walked and drove up and down a number of streets in a small corner of the GTA, passing by 4 Tim Hortons, 3 Pizza Pizzas, 8 Subways, a Wendy’s, a KFC, 2 McDonald’s, and a Pizza Hut.  One day later, driving north from Toronto on highway 400, I was overtaken again by hunger.  I passed a couple of large service stations that had a wide array of food options from Pizza Pizza to Starbucks to Wendy’s to McDonald’s to Tim Hortons.  Avoiding these, I then I took a number of exits between Toronto and Barrie but had no luck in finding something that would cure my appetite. 
Some might say that my ravenous hunger was left unresolved because of the overwhelming selection that paralyzed me with decision anxiety.  Others might say that I must just be an elitist food snob who just can’t bring himself to fast food outlets unless they serve lattés and filet mignon.  Nope, that’s not it.  I just prefer not stuff my body with food that will kill me prematurely!

Over the last several years, it seems harder and harder to find something relatively quick to eat that doesn’t involve ingesting crap!  There are several reasons for this difficulty, but here are two:  First, knowledge of what constitutes unhealthy food has grown substantially in the last decade so people's awareness of what to stay away from now casts a fairly wide net around many food outlets.  Oh, how the phrase “ignorance is bliss” carries particular relevance right now.  Second, major routes and populated areas are overwhelmed with a relatively small number of familiar brands that may seem diverse on the surface (pizza versus subs versus hamburgers) but are in fact identical in the egregious ingredients that make up their menus. 

If one wants a legitimate reason why obesity has become such a major issue in our society, you only need to consider that, in the two scenarios above, my options are to starve myself or succumb to what is available to the mainstream public.  I balk at those pundits, especially those from the food and beverage outlets themselves, who argue that obesity is a matter of personal responsibility where consumers need to simply choose those foods that are healthy for them.  But this argument assumes that consumers do have a choice in the market.  Consider a young family or single mom in a suburban neighborhood with their children famished after a day of school shopping.  What are the parents’ options?  How can they be responsible when their options are 1) to feed them this deplorable food or 2) to avoid these outlets and let them starve?

An Ottawa food bank declined to provide those in need foods that don’t meet nutritional standards such as Kraft Dinner, hotdogs, pop, potato chips, candy among other foods.  Although the manager has received tremendous slack from critics arguing that some food is better than no food, she argues the whole point of helping people is to make sure that the food available to them isn’t going to make their situation worse.  First of all, shame on those donors who provide food banks with the bottom of the so-called nutrition barrel.  Ya, let’s stick it to those welfare leaches!!  Second of all, it’s no wonder that there is a strong correlation between income level and obesity rates when you have the cheapest unhealthy food widely available to the poor.  Third, recipients of the food bank are in an even more precarious position when it comes to food choice.  Blaming these people for being a burden on our health care system would be like the Police in a small Missouri town beating the crap out of an unarmed black man and then suing him for bleeding on their uniforms.  Oh wait, that already happened

In the fog of a totally screwed up restaurant industry, there is a beacon of hope and opportunity for those moral entrepreneurs who want to fill a clear void in healthy alternatives to match an ever-growing demand by increasingly educated consumers.  If you see a middle-aged Italian wondering the streets a bit pale with hunger, I’m interested in spending some cash for something, anything that doesn’t shorten my life or push me into the next weight bracket.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thank You Menchie's for Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle

Just the other day, I took my family to Menchie’s, a new frozen yogurt franchise, among a growing number of self-serve frozen dessert locations popping up in and around the greater Toronto area.  While eating my pure chocolate and cupcake frozen yogurt covered with an array of toppings, my wife and I scanned the store and were pleased to note the many health claims of the Menchie's brand:

“Menchie’s yogurt comes from ‘Happy Canadian Cows’”

“Our frozen yogurt contains live and active cultures that promote a healthy lifestyle”

“Canadian milk contains protein and calcium for healthy lifestyles”

Finally, an alternative dessert option that really understands our values.  I mean who wants yogurt from those oppressed North Korean cows or those socialist French cows or those Chinese cows that are ruled under a dictatorship.  And unlike Canadian milk, cows in countries like Japan are stuffed with uranium and plutonium and those Italian cows, well, we know they are merely vessels to transport money, drugs and sopressata for the mafia. 

Menchie’s yogurt contains the live and active cultures found in real yogurt.  Never mind that it’s the 6th ingredient after sugar, corn syrup solids, skim powder and stabilizer.  That’s missing the point.  Menchie’s has worked hard to eliminate ingredients like high fructose corn syrup from its yogurt and instead has glucose-fructose, propylene glycol, citric acid, ethyl alcohol, and sodium benzoate. 

And to those cynics out there who proclaim that this is just as bad, let me remind you of the alternative socialist regime where options beyond sliced bread are limited.  A capitalist society requires that we forgo our health for the greater good…of Menchies.  Menchie’s has to have some unhealthy ingredients in its products, otherwise it would cease to exist.  I mean, there are no other options.

Think about it, natural yogurt ingredients are prohibitively expensive.  Why waste time with natural ingredients when we can replace them with cheap artificial ones?  Sure, corn isn’t a natural ingredient in yogurt but it’s really cheap so why not replace some of the more expensive natural ingredients with corn syrup solids and guar gum?  And to those leftists out there who argue that it’s not really yogurt anymore, all we need to do is add the vitamins and active cultures afterwards.  What’s the difference?

And what about the flavours?  One option is to use real food such as mango slices or pure mango juice in the yogurt.  But why do that when you can simply engineer flavours.  Let’s be honest, the 4 billion years it took to create the complex array of chemical components found in nature’s bounty is no match to the intellectual prowess we gained these last 200 years in chemical engineering.  That’s why Menchie’s prides itself on a team of taste engineers who can engineer flavours without having to resort to the use of natural ingredients.  Take blue raspberry, for example (what the f*&* is blue raspberry?).  Sure one option is to combine blueberries and raspberries to provide our customers with the nutritional value of real fruit, value that nature figured out a long time ago.  But that’s really expensive and difficult to work with.  Not only that, we’re way smarter than Mother Nature.  Another option is to create the impression of blue raspberry with a picture of a blue raspberry at the dispenser that disguises the fact that what constitutes the flavour is sugar, water, citric acid, natural and artificial flavours, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and food colouring blue #1. 

Another reason why Menchies avoids the burden of nature’s bounty is because they are so very excited to see us again.  You see, nature doesn’t have the same level of addictive qualities found in refined sugar.  That’s why they have a wide array of toppings that, on the one hand are so incredibly cheap, but on the other psychologically wire you to come back for more.  And no doubt we as consumers are eager to return.  So why bother providing real fruit and real yogurt when all we’re going to do is return at a rate that would keep obesity levels at an all time low.  Who wants that? 

No, thank you Menchies…thank you for a revolutionary business model that reverse engineers Mother Nature and provide us with what we really need – ingredients that are as cheap in cost as they are in nutrition and that share addictive qualities of tobacco.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Reinvention of Shoppers Drug Mart

Shoppers Drug Mart is no doubt an iconic brand here in Canada.  With over 1200 retail outlets across the country, Canadians can count on this leading drug store retailer to provide us with the vital medicines we all need to survive and flourish in the modern age.  Founder Murray Koffler’s ambition was to “build a national organization of pharmacies without sacrificing the personalized service of the local community pharmacist”.  Yes, indeed, it’s that personal touch we get from those community-oriented employees.  Never mind that these wages oftentimes prohibit them from living in the very community they work in. 

But that’s just the realities of the free market. We can’t obstruct that which has provided us with so much good.   As a reputable, responsible company, they can’t go around paying people community living wages and still benefit from sky high margins that come with pricing well beyond their competitors.  Where else can you see discrepancies in prices as high as 40-50% range compared with their competitors?

 And it’s indeed the spirit of this free market we so hold dear that brings us the many innovative and life-saving products that now populate today’s Shoppers Drug Mart.  Just walking through the doors, consumers are instantaneously greeted with the light aroma of toxic chemicals that pervade their cosmetics and beauty products section.  And at one-third of the store’s footprint, you can’t possibly miss it.  And what about all the wonderfully processed food that can wait months on shelves for us to purchase them, topped off by a barrage of refined sugar and salt packed confectionery products that together make up a second third of the store. 

But be weary of those liberal pinko critics who lambaste such a fine community citizen as Shoppers drug mart.  All we need to do is look at the remaining third of the store, spearheaded by a responsible pharmacy with professionals in lab coats meant to put to shame any claim of hypocrisy put forward by those leftist 'nutbars' as my idol Kevin O’Leary would likely put it.  Sure, it may be strategically placed so that you have to walk by the high margin beauty products on the way in accompanied by a barrage of advertisements telling you how unhealthy a lifestyle you lead or the high margin addictive salt, sugar and fat products you need to pass on the way out that are linked to one of society’s greatest health epidemics.  But that’s beside the point.

What’s important here is that Shoppers Drug Mart is there to provide you with all the health care products you need to cope with the irritated eyes and skin, headache, heart disease, stomach ache, diabetes and obesity that you’ll likely get as you consume the rest of the products in the store. 

Ladies and gentlemen, Shoppers Drug Mart is truly a pioneer in the one-stop shopping experience where you can literally start with products laced with cancer-causing chemicals then move on to the processed food aisles, not to fret because you can just pick up the health remedies you need to overcome the onslaught of destruction to your body.  Indeed, the free market is really the only mechanism where a company, calling itself a community citizen, can survive by bringing their consumers to the brink of death only to revive them for another round of shopping.  After all, who would buy their health products if its own consumers weren’t overwhelmed with addictive products, accompanied by coercive advertising?  We can’t have them promoting natural beauty or fresh fruits and vegetables.  Where’s the money in that?  More importantly, they’d be out of business if they didn't provide us consumers with the products with consequences that guarantee a market for expensive health care remedies.