Sharon Hahn Darlin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
For roughly two decades, Canadians have been telling Tim Hortons something's missing from the company's menu: the dutchie.
The sweet, square-shaped treat speckled with raisins dates back to the brand's 1964 inception but was taken off the menu in the early 2000s. It made a short-lived reappearance in 2017 for Canada's 150th anniversary. Come Jan. 10 though, the dutchie will return for a limited time—and Tims president Axel Schwan predicts customers will be thrilled the company heard their pleas.
“It's always about listening well,” he says, having sat down before a plate piled high with dutchies in Tim Hortons’ Toronto test kitchen. “Having two big ears and one mouth is very helpful, I learned from my mom.''
The dutchie's return comes as Tims prepares to sprinkle its menu with a number of new products and old favourites to mark its 60th anniversary on May 17. The milestone year will pay homage to some of the original treats on the menu when the first Tims opened in Hamilton, Ont.
Long before the brand begun by late Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tim Horton was synonymous with Canada and a staple across hockey rinks, offices and morning commutes, Tims had a more simplified menu with items like apple fritters, which are still sold today, and the dutchie.
Tims is promising four retro doughnuts will reappear for a limited time on its menu in 2024 _ though it's staying tight-lipped on the other three for now. (A June poll the company ran on social media questioned whether customers would favour the blueberry fritter, chocolate eclair or cinnamon twist returning.)
Chief marketing officer Hope Bagozzi says the dutchie's return as part of a menu shakeup Tims began plotting more than a year ago was a hard secret to keep. “There's lots of people who have had it over the years who will remember it. Actually, a lot of family members of mine, who are like 'Please bring it back', will be really happy.”
But bringing back a classic is no easy feat
While Tims typically keeps its recipes the same, sometimes things have to change.
The brand, for example, promised its core menu would be free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives by the end of 2021—a commitment that wasn't around when Tims was getting off the ground or growing into a fast-food behemoth with a presence in 19 countries.
“We take some of the opportunities to improve as well, so the recipe is the same, but the ingredients might be different,” adds Carolina Berti, Tims' vice-president of category and innovation.
Much of the work to arrive at the right dutchie recipe for 2024 was completed in the company's test kitchen, a massive space with shelves brimming with sauces and industrial-grade appliances capable of crafting any beverage or food item one can imagine on a Tims menu. It's there that a team of culinary experts, aided by reams of data from Tims' market research and customer requests to revive an item, develop the right formulation and figure out how it could speedily be recreated for Tims’ almost 4,000 Canadian restaurants.
Berti estimates she tastes items being developed at least three times a week. About once a month, executives like Schwan and Bagozzi visit to sample several things at once.
The chefs, of course, do much more tasting. On top of hearing from executives, they seek feedback from focus groups peppered with questions about how the items look, taste and in the case of the dutchie, live up to their memory.
“That was a very, very critical step in the whole journey to make sure that we don't disappoint,” says Schwan.
The same rigour will be put into other anniversary products: omelette bites in the bacon and egg white and spinach varieties, and sweet chili chicken wraps and bowls. The omelette bites will arrive on Jan. 8. They were launched in 2019 in a bid to appease diners looking for something lighter than sandwiches for breakfast or wanting to reduce their carbohydrate intake. The new bowls and wraps coming in February are part of Tims’ big push to conquer the afternoon segment of the fast food market.
“We really see a big opportunity to grow PM day parts—everything around lunch, dinner and in the afternoon, espresso-based beverages and cold beverages,” says Schwan, who drinks three large dark roast coffees every day and swears the company's Boston creme is the best “on the planet.”
“So continuing our strength in the morning, plus these opportunities, that should really set us up for nice years ahead.”
Many items Tims revives or introduces for its anniversary will come in red and white packaging with the “60 years of keeping it fresh” slogan and a 60 logo made of infinity loop-like stripes to denote the brand is always in motion, Bagozzi adds.
Timbit boxes will get a makeover too, featuring the famed doughnut holes in party hats along with a character made of Timbits the company debuted the treat with in 1976. Tims will also roll out a hockey-centric ad featuring archival footage of Horton, scenes with NHL star Sidney Crosby and clips of a new generation of tots on ice.
Tims famed Roll up to Win contest will be anniversary-themed too
Bagozzi, whose earliest Tims memories date back to visiting after dance class with her dad who would treat her to Timbits, a honey cruller or a chocolate dip doughnut, said getting the anniversary food and branding right is a lot of pressure.
“We would never want to disappoint. I think the stakes are high, expectations are high (because) we're such a beloved brand,” Bagozzi says. “We like to be really sure that when we're going to do something, it's going to be awesome and that it's going to just raise the bar on people's expectations for us and that we live up to that.”