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Tim Hortons tests a new lunch menu

When people think of Tim Hortons, they might think of coffee, muffins, maybe even Canada, but lunch? Not so much.

The 800-plus-unit chain is hatching a plan to change that.

Tim Hortons has begun testing a revamped lunch menu at five central and southeastern Ohio stores. It features 12 new or reimagined sandwiches pushing higher-quality ingredients.

The locations offering the new sandwiches are two on Bethel Road, plus at 6259 Sunbury Rd. in Westervile, 963 N. 21st St. in Newark and 903 E. State St. in Athens.

The new sandwiches go national in September.

Some of the sandwiches are new versions of old favorites. The turkey bacon club has been a top seller, but the new version has a higher-quality bun, real cheese and full slices of bacon. The chicken-salad sandwich dumped shredded chicken in favor of chunks and uses real mayonnaise.

A new grilled cheese sandwich features a couple of types of cheeses and several pieces of bacon between pieces of buttered sourdough bread.

“That’s my favorite,” said Steve Spell, the chain’s manager of training who is in charge of making sure that stores can build the sandwiches efficiently.

It’s a bold plan to swap out an entire menu, but Tim Hortons’ challenge at lunch is daunting. The chain makes half of its sales after 11 a.m., but just 10 percent comes from the lunch menu.

The new lunch menu is part of the brand’s transformation with the “Cafe and Bake Shop” tagline. It is meant to position the brand above quick-serve restaurants such as Burger King and McDonald’s by offering fare that is consistent with a place such as Panera but at a lower price.

People spend more on lunch than breakfast, and Tim Hortons wants a few of those dollars.

“A small gain in lunch would be a big win for our business,” said Kate Jung, vice president of marketing for Tim Hortons.

Analysts think the move is the right one, but they add that many chains are trying the same thing.

“We’ve seen a lot of shifting among brands, and brands elevating quality,” said Darren Tristano, vice president at Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant and food-service consultant. “The sandwich market is really competitive.”

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