A&W was Canada’s first hamburger quick service restaurant and remains one of its best known. The company began operations in Winnipeg, opening its first freestanding drive-in restaurant in 1956. By 1966, A&W Food Services had opened over 200 drive-in restaurants and was a hit with baby boomers and their families.
In 1972, A&W Food Services was acquired by Unilever Canada Limited. Since that time, A&W has been owned and operated in Canada independently from A&W operations in the United States.
In 1995, the company's then current senior management team with other investors acquired A&W Food Services in a management buy-out of the A&W business from Unilever Canada Limited. At that time, A&W Food Services owned and operated 162 hamburger quick service retaurants and franchised a further 308 restaurants.
During the 1980s, A&W Food Services became the first hamburger quick service restaurant chain to open restaurants in shopping centres. Today, it is the dominant operator in this segment with approximately 195 restaurants.
The 1990s brought continued growth and change to A&W as the company aggressively expanded its freestanding restaurants in Western Canada.
In 1996, a strategic decision was made to focus on franchising the business. Over an 18 month period, 129 corporately-owned restaurants were sold and franchised and 26 restaurants were closed.
In February, 2002 the A&W Revenue Royalties Income Fund was created.
Food Services is committed to ongoing strategic renewal of its business. This involves re-evaluating the longer term strategy for the business every three to five years. In 2015, Food Services undertook a renewal of the strategy for the A&W business. At the core of the new strategy is the mission "To delight time-crunched Canadian burger lovers with the joy of great tasting natural food made by people they trust". The new strategy has five key strategic thrusts which are planned to be implemented over the coming years:
A key element of A&W's growth strategy is repositioning and differentiating A&W in the QSR industry through the use of "better ingredients". This strategy includes differentiating A&W with simple, great tasting ingredients farmed with care. With the launch of new beef specifications in September 2013, A&W became the first national quick service restaurant to serve beef raised without the use of hormones or steriods, raised on ranches at the leading edge of sustainable and ethical practices. In September 2014, A&W introduced eggs from hens fed a diet without animal by-products. In October 2014, A&W launched chicken raised without the use of antibiotics. Organic and Fair Trade coffee was introduced in January 2015. In February 2016, A&W introduced pork raised without the use of antibiotics.
Today, with over 880 restaurants from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, A&W is the second largest hamburger restaurant chain in Canada and is one of Canada’s leading franchisors.
With national system sales of over $1.1 Billion in 2016, the restaurant chain serves 118 million guests a year and employs approximately 17,000 employees.
Over its 60 year history, Food Services has established a strong brand name and a reputation as a leader in the hamburger segment of the quick service restaurant market. The A&W product line includes hamburgers (The Burger Family®), chicken products (through the Chubby Chicken® line of products), Russet thick-cut fries, sweet potato fries, A&W Root Beer®, fresh hand-cut onion rings, soft drinks, coffee and breakfast items.