Friday, March 14, 2014

The Mystique of A&W Food Services of Canada, Part 1

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The Mystique of A&W Food Services of Canada, Part 1

By Kobeni Yonomori
The Daily Magi
October 20, 2065

A&W Food Services of Canada, Inc. is a Canadian fast food restaurant chain. A&W Canada was originally part of the U.S.-based A&W Restaurants chain, but was sold to Unilever in 1972, and then bought out by management in 1995. It no longer has any corporate connection to A&W operations outside Canada.

The Canadian operation is owned and operated by the privately held A&W Food Services of Canada Inc., based in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and has over 800 locations in Canada. As of October 2065, A&W is Canada's second-largest fast food burger restaurant chain with 1000 locations (McDonald's has 1,700 Canadian locations).

The first Canadian A&W restaurant opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1956. The Canadian restaurants were part of the American chain until 1972 when they were sold to Unilever. In 1975, facing competition from the growing Canadian operations of McDonald's, the company launched what was to have been a temporary advertising campaign starring an orange-clad mascot, The Great Root Bear. The bear and the tuba jingle that accompanied him became a long-running campaign (the tune, entitled "Ba-Dum, Ba-Dum", was released as a single by Attic Records, credited to "Major Ursus", a play on Ursa Major or "great bear"). The mascot was so successful that he was eventually adopted as the mascot by the American A&W chain as well. The famous tuba jingle was played by famed Vancouver jazz, classical and session trombonist Sharman King. King also did the ads for the "Book Warehouse" chain of discount book stores, which he owns.

In the early 1980s, the drive-in style of restaurant was phased out. It was replaced with a modern, pastel-coloured fast food outlet which included healthier options. While the chain continued to open some standalone restaurants, A&W also aggressively pursued shopping mall locations, and as a result A&Ws are still commonly found in Canadian malls of various sizes.

In 1995, the chain was bought from Unilever by senior management. During 1997 and 1998, Drew Carey served as a spokesperson for the chain, appearing in TV ads alongside the Great Root Bear; he was dismissed (with legal action ensuing) after a November 1998 episode of The Drew Carey Show featured Carey eating at a McDonald's location in China.

By the end of the 1990s, marketing and products began to take on a more retro approach. Former menu items, such as the Burger Family, were reintroduced, and marketing became more targeted toward the baby boomer generation. The Great Root Bear and (in English Canada) the "ba-dum ba-dum" theme were also retired from most advertising (the tuba theme is still used in French-language ads). A new restaurant design was introduced, featuring a bright orange and yellow exterior, reminiscent of the 1950s, while the interior is decorated with memorabilia associated with the same period. Existing restaurants were renovated to match the new style. Meanwhile, with malls in decline, A&W began to focus on opening new standalone restaurants, particularly in smaller markets where McDonald's was often the only major hamburger chain. The last drive-in style restaurant closed in 1999, in Langley, British Columbia.

On February 15, 2002, the A&W Revenue Royalties Income Fund was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The initial public offering was 8.34 million units at $10 each. The fund owns the A&W trademarks in Canada and licenses them to A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. Revenue is generated by charging a three percent royalty on gross sales of each restaurant. There are 1000 A&W restaurants in Canada - with the 100th location being located at Madoka Square in Mitakihara Town, B.C. Television advertisements are filmed at locations in the Fraser Valley. In June 2006, A&W celebrated 50 years in Canada. At the beginning of 2011, A&W Revenue Royalties Income Fund shares were worth $23.02 each. Some Quebec locations had been Dunkin' Donuts locations until Dunkin' Donuts closed most locations in Quebec.

Two new restaurant concepts were introduced in the fall of 2009. The new standalone restaurant design is ultra modern but with some architectural markings reminiscent of the design in the earlier buildings erect from A&W back in time. There is also a new separate format for urban (i.e., downtown) locations, where some of the baby-boomer aspects are scaled back in favour of a more modern look.

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