In August of 1948,Maclean smagazine did a feature on Garfield Weston, the king of the bake shop in Canada. He was the son of George Weston, the man who originally drove a bread wagon in Toronto. George went on to buy the little bakery he worked for and in 1884 founded the Weston Biscuit company.
When his son Willard Garfield went to war, he would spend his time on leave visiting biscuit factories in Britain where he found good food made in an old-fashioned and expensive way. He came home with great ideas, causing his father to comment that his son had no sense of money values.
That did not deter the entrepreneur. Garfield took over the Weston business after George died, and in the first year of operation he raised profits to $85,000, and by 1928 at the age of 31, Garfield was expanding worldwide.
The name change to George Weston Ltd. came under Garfield s direction. Today, that company owns Weston Bakeries, Holt Renfrew and Loblaws. In the West, Loblaws is known as Superstore, NoFrills, Extra Foods, T&T, and Wholesale Club. Steady growth in the best and worst of times has given Weston a keen sense of what it takes to survive and thrive in hostile environments.
Garfield loved depressions and other hard economic times, because it was the perfect opportunity to expand and ensure jobs for the working public. He was often quoted as saying that he did not buy companies, he employed good people. He was creative and daring, recognizing that simple things make great investments. To him it was obvious logic that if bread and biscuits were shipped in boxes, you should own the lumber and paper mills to make the box.
The legacy has carried on and today the empire started by a man with a bread wagon is worth $9.8 billion and managed by Garfield s youngest son, Galen, who is chairman and president. Galen himself has faced many challenges and when Loblaw was faced with a financial crisis in the 1970s he was responsible for hiring the most daring of marketers to revive the long-suffering Loblaws stores. The result was the President s Choice brand. History repeats itself and 40 years later, Loblaw Companies Ltd. is again facing stiff competition from other food retailers.
In a recent interview withInsideEdge,Galen Weston Jr. (known as G2) the great-grandson of George Weston, gives us insight into what one of the country s largest retailers feels is the future of the grocery store. Weston recognizes that Canada is one of the main exporters of food in the world. In his own words he considers one of the greatest challenges will be in ensuring our domestic food supply is secure and sustainable, while continuing to grow a vibrant business.
He went on to say that we have to also ensure that we have the scale to compete. Without that large-scale mentality it is going to be tough to grow the value in food production. There is a risk in his mind of missing opportunities if we stop at this point rather than move ahead with further investment.
What does it mean for beef?
WhenInsideEdgeasked Weston how the consumer landscape had changed, he referred to the informed consumers who have a good idea of what they want and are more discerning than ever. To the beef industry this is a clear invitation to go out and ask just what it is the retailer and the consumer want. If we are not meeting the needs of both, it will be impossible to stay on course as a desired protein.
The real test of success in a business is the ability to stay ahead of the curve and understand trends that give you the competitive advantage. Weston knows things are changing. There is growth in the ethnic/ international and the natural/ organic segments, and there is increasing interest in locally produced foods. That is a profound statement from one of the country s largest retailers. And, it often makes the beef industry groan.
There will always be the argument that what is produced is already natural and that ethnic consumers will transition to our way of cutting and presenting beef. And if it is produced in Alberta, is that not local enough?
Not to the discerning public. The beef industry is challenged to look at ethnic needs as an adventure into taste, texture and presentation. And like Garfield Weston, maybe we have to create a desire by dipping the cookie in chocolate and then make the box it is delivered in.
At the end of the day, it all comes at a price. And that is the ultimate challenge keeping consumers engaged at a price level they can afford. Taking a page from Canadian retail grocery history, the beef industry must assume the task of being daring, creative, innovative and caring while supporting a discipline and core family values.
BrendaSchoeppisamarketanalystandtheownerandauthorofBeeflink,anationalbeef-cattlemarketnewsletter.Aprofessionalspeakerandindustrymarketandresearchconsultant,sheranchesnearRimbey,Alberta. [email protected]