Restaurant’s growth tied to challenging traditional farming practices

A&W is doing great.

That might frustrate and infuriate offended beef farmers and others who don’t like the burger chain’s aggressive embrace and championing of recent food trends that challenge common agricultural practices.

But customers seem happy. They’ve been hungry for more.

“Same store sales for the first quarter of 2019 increased by 10 percent,” reports the company in its most recent quarterly results, ending March 24.

“Same store sales growth was achieved in all provinces and concepts.”

The company continues to steam ahead on its drive to become a much bigger player in the Canadian fast-food marketplace.

“Food Services continues to rapidly grow new A&W restaurants, particularly in the key Ontario and Quebec markets. Nine new A&W restaurants have opened across the country in the first three months of 2019. As of March 24, 2019, an additional 73 are under construction or in varying stages of permitting.”

Key to its booming success, which has seen its same store sales growth double in the past year, has been its commitment to “be loved for our natural ingredients, great taste, convenience, and for doing what’s right,” says the company’s marketing promotions.

What are its “better ingredients” and “all-natural ingredients?”

It has been a multi-pronged approach beginning in 2013, including:

  • Meat raised without added hormones and steroids;
  • 100 percent pure beef burgers without additives, fillers or preservatives;
  • Eggs from hens fed vegetarian diets;
  • Root beer made from all-natural products;
  • Non-meat Beyond Meat burgers introduced in 2018;
  • Processed cheese dumped and “real cheese” used instead.

“In summary, with rapid growth of new locations and industry leading innovation, A&W’s brand positioning is strong,” concludes the company.

That might vex beef producers who have been upset by A&W’s initial importing of Australian beef for its non-hormone and antibiotic beef burgers, for its “Beyond Meat” campaign, and for branding its favoured ingredients as “Better.”

However, food industry expert Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University said farmers should learn from A&W’s success, and adapt.

“Health is a big, big driver everywhere…. Producers will really need to accept the fact that A&W is looking at data analytics very seriously. They’re responding to what they’re seeing,” said Charlebois in an interview.

Not only do the company’s financial results suggest they’re doing something right, but other chains are following their lead.

Recently, Tim Hortons announced it was adding Beyond Meat (plant-based) products to its menu.

Charlebois said conventional livestock producers need to realize they don’t rule the protein marketplace any longer. They’re just an option alongside specialized and plant-based products.

“It’s what happened with Maple Leaf (Foods.) Maple Leaf went from being an animal protein champion to being a protein champion,” said Charlebois.

“I don’t think the beef industry is in jeopardy. I think there is some potential for growth. But you need to be careful how you position your product. Beef will co-exist with other options. It won’t dominate the market.”

In the meantime, A&W has lessons for others. Its success with Beyond Meat, before the products were on grocery store shelves, could set the company apart as a trailblazer.

“Very rarely do you see grocers following the food service sector’s lead on anything,” said Charlebois.

“You can’t see that kind of phenomenon without having this movement supported by economics…. Something’s gone very well.”

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