View from the C-Suite: How A&W’s commitment to quality reaches beyond its menu

CEO Susan Senecal on what she's learned after 30 years with the company.

A&W - Susan Senecal (2)

Susan Senecal’s impressive tenure with A&W Canada started 30 years ago. She joined A&W as an area manager in 1992, climbed the ranks to become CMO in 2012 and became CEO in 2018.

Senecal’s CMO position was pivotal for the company as she doubled down on its marketing strategy to provide consumers with a sustainable and ethical QSR experience, such as serving beef raised without hormones or steroids – offerings the company is now known for.

When she became CEO in 2018, Senecal became the first woman to lead A&W in its 62-year history. Known for her drive for innovation and willingness to take on new challenges, Senecal has focused on targeting a younger demographic and welcoming them both as customers and as franchise owners. She continues to push for A&W to hold its reputation as a QSR with a conscience – offering grass-fed, Canadian beef, sustainable packaging and fair-trade coffee. The company has also introduced small-town franchise opportunities that aim to bring communities together and encourage inter-generational growth and success.

We caught up with Senecal to find out about the projects and initiatives that matter most to her, what she’s learned in her 30 years with the company and what the status of the ever-popular Whistle Dog will be going forward.

You’ve been with A&W Canada for 30 years, and in the role of CEO since 2018. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?

I would say the most important lesson from my 30 years at A&W is the importance of creating and implementing a solid, relevant strategy that focuses on clear opportunities, plays to our strengths and involves everyone at A&W in its success.

It’s essential to be very deliberate about the behaviours each of us must commit to in order to achieve our strategy. We call those behaviours “climate,” and we work hard to identify the right behaviours, and live up to our commitments, encouraging one another and giving the kind of feedback that helps us continuously get better.

As a CEO, I have been surrounded by an incredible amount of talent – both within the A&W world and in our broader community. Noticing that talent, and finding ways to involve, learn from, and share it is one of the easiest ways to understand the world around us. People are incredibly generous and will rise to the occasion when given the opportunity.

The partnership between the Blue Jays and A&W seems to be a natural choice, since A&W has sponsored High-A Minor League affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians, since 2006. How will baseball fans see A&W’s support at games? Are there any other collaborations with the Blue Jays that consumers can expect to see?

This partnership was a no brainer – Canada’s best baseball team meets the best-tasting burger!

This summer we celebrated this partnership by bringing back an A&W legacy menu item: The Whistle Dog. It’s a multi-year partnership with a lot more in the works.

Any chance the Whistle Dog will end up on menus full time?

Out of all A&W discontinued menu items, no other item has been requested to be brought back as much as the Whistle Dog.

While we aren’t currently planning a full-time comeback, we never say never.

A&W Canada is a leader in high-quality food products, becoming the first national brand to serve beef raised without artificial hormones and steroids in 2013, and switching to grass-fed, grass-finished beef in 2019. What obstacles had to be overcome to commit to this promise? How will the brand keep raising the bar?

Transitioning to grass-fed beef has been a long journey that started well before we began talking about it publicly. As we looked to source 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef, it was really important for us to continue to buy as much of our beef as possible from Canada, so connecting with Canadian grass-fed beef producers was a big focus. Although we are excited to see the supply of grass-fed beef in Canada growing, we are always looking to work with more Canadian ranchers.

One of the most important reasons for supporting Canadian grass-fed beef is its role in regenerative agriculture. Well-managed grasslands with grazing animals, like cattle, capture carbon into the soil, prevent water loss and drought, and help to protect endangered plant and animal species. By choosing grass-fed beef, Canadians can help protect one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world: the prairie grasslands. Canadian ranchers are playing an important role in fighting climate change, and we champion that work whenever we can, regularly investing in projects that help Canadian ranchers implement regenerative agriculture practices.

A&W has been working with the MS Society of Canada to raise awareness and funds for this important cause for 14 years. Why is it important to the company to make sure Canadians get involved?

Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis globally, with an average of 12 Canadians diagnosed every day. This is a real issue impacting Canadians, and A&W is proud to support a cause so close to home.

We encourage Canadians to get involved to help us reach our goal of $1.5 million this year. The best way is to buy a Teen Burger® by visiting your local A&W restaurant on August 18th, where $2 from every Teen Burger sold will be donated to the MS Society of Canada.

The annual fundraising initiative is very close to the hearts of A&W’s franchisees across the country, and this campaign wouldn’t be possible without their ongoing support. Supporters can see franchisee teams in action on August 18th when they visit their local A&W restaurant to purchase a Teen Burger.