Why A&W Canada has found success amongst their customers
Back in 2015 when SAIFood was launched, we posted one of our most-read blogs “A(mbiguous) & W(rong)”. Inspired by A&W Canada’s ‘Better Beef’ campaign that suggested that cattle raised without artificial growth hormones were better than those raised with them. It was this suggestion of being better and that it tasted better that inspired our post. In the end, we highlighted how A&W Canada’s beef was not better, as they were only able to source 10% of their beef from Canada. While A&W was marketing how their product was a better burger for the planet, they had to ship most of it from Australia, thousands of kilometers away.
It’s been six years since publishing that original post, and A&W has continued to advertise with similar intentions of ‘sustainable’ and ‘humane’, but has my perception of A&W changed?
Not really & yes!
First off, let’s acknowledge how much progress the food system and consumers have made towards adopting ‘sustainable practices’. In just a short while, we have seen firms like Impossible Meats successfully launch plant protein meat alternatives and be adopted by the market for passable meat alternatives. We have also seen the move towards reducing restaurant waste, in which A&W itself has been a leader here in Canada. To be honest, when it comes to fast food, it is difficult to be sustainable, as our demands of their products don’t fit traditional definitions of sustainability. So, I will not harp on where the beef comes from, how it’s produced, or whether it’s better or sustainable because in this realm I have not changed my perception of A&W, and is a whole other blog we can discuss if you’re interested.
Where A&W is going right
It might shock you, but A&W is doing it right. In my opinion, not of SAIFood or Stuart’s, but the opinion of a woman from small-town Saskatchewan, with an education in agricultural business and economics, A&W is doing some things right. For the past six years, I have been editing and writing for SAIFood, and my focus has been to communicate, inform, be transparent and connect with our online community, this is also what A&W has been building towards. For the past decade, A&W has been marketing with the same intent and has been successful in doing so. Now, has it all been a success for them, in my opinion no, but we cannot expect them to always be batting a thousand.
So what have they been doing right?
Whether you agree with their marketing or not, they are getting their message out there. I cannot fault A&W when it comes to them aligning their marketing & branding with the values they have as a company. I might not think they can be sustainable as a burger chain, but they are working their best to fit their definition of sustainable and share with you how they are getting there. With their campaign of “Our”, which directs the focus at food, planet, and community, this fast-food chain is doing the work and inviting its customers to be a part of ‘our’ journey.
I don’t need to be in agreeance with their messaging to know that they are leading an effective campaign. As someone with agricultural knowledge, I know how my food is made from the farm to the processing plant; I feel informed and trust it. Yet, this is not the case for many Canadians. As of 2016, fewer than 20% of Canadians’ lived in rural communities and lacked a connection to how food is grown in modern farming. According to the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI), from 2016 to 2019 roughly 91% of Canadians felt that they knew little to nothing about modern farming practices. This means that nine out of ten Canadians rely on others to help inform them about farming practices that affect their food. Now, when it comes to your food, wouldn’t you too be more trusting of a company that is showing an effort to care about the community, plant, and our food, all well helping to provide me with the information of how they do so? This is exactly what A&W did, through their own lens of values for their food products. I cannot fault A&W for both wanting to make a difference and using this knowledge gap to their marketing benefit.
I no longer bother to boycott A&W
Back in 2015, Stuart and I both decided to stop supporting A&W. So we said farewell to their frosty root beer mugs and nostalgic onion rings, as we did not want to support their campaigns and marketing at the time. However, over the years and to my husband’s relief, when we require sustenance on the way home, I no longer object to stopping at the Davidson A&W. That doesn’t mean I am a supporter of A&W, it just means I no longer go out of my way to avoid the burger chain. I still cannot stand their ridiculous commercials with the A&W person and spokesperson (commercial actor, Allen Lulu), and I am quick to turn them off as soon as they come up on my screen. Nevertheless, I must tip my hat to the company, whether I am a supporter or not of their firm, or disagree with how they market their firm as making sustainable choices, they are doing a great job at getting their message out there to their consumers. If it were not successful, A&W wouldn’t have continued this campaign strategy for so long. Their story so far has been successful as they continue towards their own sustainable visions and even made the generous donation of $5-million to the University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE) back in 2017.
In my opinion, it does not matter if you support A&W or not. They have continued to market and build awareness for their consumers on their values and have been able to prosper as a company doing so. What I think we need to consider is what information do consumers want, and how do they want to receive it. It appears that A&W has figured it out, maybe it’s time we take a page out of the marketing books and use it to help fill in the gaps that consumers might have about agriculture and their food.