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 always 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 along 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 186 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 2020, Food Services undertook a renewal of the strategy for the A&W business. At the core of the strategy is the mission “To become #1 with millennial burger lovers, chosen and trusted for truly good food and the convenience they crave”. The strategy has five key strategic thrusts:
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. In 2015, A&W introduced organic and Fair Trade coffee. In 2016, A&W introduced bacon from pork raised without the use of antibiotics. In 2017, A&W introduced in its restaurants A&W Root Beer made from natural cane sugar and all-natural flavours. In 2018, A&W began serving in its restaurants the Beyond Meat† Burger made using 100% plant-based protein. Also in 2018, A&W began using real cheese on all burgers and breakfast sandwiches. In 2020, A&W announced it is exclusively using grass fed beef in all of its burgers and launched its new Fair Trade organic coffee.
Today, with over 1,000 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 $1.4 Billion in 2020, the restaurant chain serves 133 million guests a year and employs approximately 20,000 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®), the Beyond Meat† Burger, made using 100% plant-based protein, 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, organic and Fair Trade coffee and breakfast items.