Grant and Pam Hooker began serving the BeaverTails artisanal pastry in 1978 at the Killaloe Fair, just west of Ottawa.
Today the brand is known internationally with intense interest sparked after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ottawa’s Byward Market in February 2009 and indulged in the iconic treat.
With about 182 locations, and a presence in Mexico, France, United Arab Emirates and Japan, the brand plans a big expansion of its footprint in 2022 and a move into more traditional commercial/neighbourhood environments.
Pino Di Ioia, the company’s CEO, said the brand is now enjoying a maturing.
“When Obama came to Canada, we called it our Oprah moment. We saw a significant jump in sales which is normal for those PR events. But it never went down which we frankly didn’t expect. It was a 20 to 30 point jump in the whole chain and it just stayed there,” he said.
“Now we’re experiencing the same. COVID was unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, good for us because we’re not a real restaurant and if you go to a place like Banff you’re maybe afraid to sit in a restaurant but you’ll have a snack.
“We’re opening new, better looking stores. We’ve broadened the menu extensively over the last five or 10 years. The brand has matured. We’ve done a lot more marketing and social media. And all of those factors together combined with the unexpected explosiveness of COVID is another Oprah moment for us. We’re just bumping one more level. We’ve become more of a mainstream. We’re accepted in the mainstream. And that’s why we’re now opening in communities across Canada.”
Expansion includes downtown Calgary, Milton, Burlington, Brossard in Montreal, Vaudreuil in Montreal, Mississauga, Edmonton, Hamilton, Oakville.
Di Ioia said in 2021 the brand, which has its headquarters in Montreal, opened just over 20 locations and another 24 are coming in 2022.
“Nobody is trying to break a record and open a hundred in a year,” he said. “We’re privately owned. It’s a family business. We want to continue growing solid. So we’re happy to continue at that same clip.”
Di Ioia said the reason for the brand’s popularity is simple.
“We happen to be in Canada’s most iconic places. If you go coast to coast, if you’re having a good time, you’re having a BeaverTail. And it’s from the Victoria waterfront, Grouse Mountain, Whistler, Banff, Canmore, Jasper, the Forks in Winnipeg, right on the waterfront in Toronto, old Quebec, old Montreal, the Beach. You name it,” he said.
“You look at our store list and it’s where Canadians leisure. And that’s a powerful memory driver. People have great memories. The product is an excellent product. I don’t think people would memorialize a weekend at the beach with a salad.”
Di Ioia said the long-standing original location in Byward Market remains very strong.
“We’re now looking to expand that location after 40 years,” he said.
Scott Reid, Director of Development, said the company’s initial expansion many years ago involved places that would attract tourism like ski hills such a Mont Tremblant, Blue Mountain and Collingwood. They were natural fits for the brand. Mobile units in trailers and trucks expanded the brand.
“The biggest evolution of the brand is over the last couple of years where we are now graduating to a more traditional bricks and mortar type location,” said Reid.
“This would not necessarily be in those leisure or touristy places. What we’re looking to do and what has been developing over the last two years is what we call a community shop. And these community shops are found in suburbs. We’re getting a ton of interest in Mississauga, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, all across Canada in suburb type areas and also downtown, anchored by places that people would visit two or three times a week. A plaza that would have a major grocery store, maybe a Starbucks, a Tim Hortons, a liquor store, Dollarama.
“We find ourselves in maybe a strip mall that would be surrounded by these anchors not unlike a Dairy Queen or a Baskin-Robins . . . a dessert/snack destination where people can now treat themselves several times in a month instead of just finding a BeaverTail at a place like the Byward Market or a Tremblant. Now we have 10 of these under construction,” said Reid.
“It’s such a love brand. It really is. I know a lot of people use that word and it’s kind of cliche in the marketing world but it truly is a love brand because it’s associated with a special event. It’s associated with a vacation, with a special afternoon with the family, amusement park, water park, ski hills. And it’s an indulgence. It’s part of that event. What makes it special is that emotional connection people have to the brand. It’s more than just the product. The product of course is unique and delicious and sweet. We’re selling sugar and that’s never a bad thing. But it’s really the association they have with the happiness and joy of the moment that really sets us apart.
“The awareness of the brand is right up there. It’s almost a household name right across Canada. You could say that about a bunch of brands obviously. But one that’s so underdeveloped is actually pretty interesting. Most people will know BeaverTails when you tell them about it and have a story, have an experience associated to it but can’t actually access the product except for maybe a few times a year if that. This led to not only our customers but our franchisees and investors in general just wanting to be able to set up a BeaverTails business because they know the demand and the notoriety of the brand just outweighs its availability. That’s where the next step of developing started shaping itself over the last couple of years.”