A&W now serving chicken raised without the use of antibiotics

Fast-food chain continues its commitment to simple, great-tasting ingredients

C14-0329_Chicken_Story_Poster_B_EN.inddA year after launching “better beef” made without the use of hormones or steroids, A&W has turned its attention to chicken.

The Vancouver-based fast-food chain is now serving chicken raised without the use of antibiotics. The menu change, which took effect Oct. 20, follows the August introduction of eggs from hens fed a vegetarian diet without animal by-products.

“When we started to notice interest among Canadians about the food they eat and what’s in it, we started with beef because we’re all about great burgers,” said Susan Senecal, chief marketing officer at A&W Food Services of Canada.

The switch to hormone-free beef got “a fantastic response,” she added. “It was a real indication that this is exactly what our guests were interested in, so we started to work on eggs and chicken.”

A&W’s antibiotic-free chicken is being promoted with an integrated marketing campaign, including TV and digital advertising, social media and PR. Rethink developed the creative, Strategic Objections is handling PR and Vizeum is handling media buying.

A TV spot shows A&W’s well-known “store manager” (actor Allen Lulu) speaking to people on the street about chicken raised without the use of antibiotics.

“We’re trying to capture the real reactions of people hearing about the news and trying the chicken from A&W,” said Tom Newitt, senior director of marketing, brand communications at A&W.

While A&W has long targeted nostalgic baby boomers, its current focus on “simple, great-tasting ingredients farmed with care” is meant to appeal to a younger audience.

“I think all Canadians are really interested in the food that they eat, but that is particularly true with Canadians 25 to 44,” said Senecal. She added that as consumers’ lives get increasingly busy, “they need a chance to save a little bit of time and while they do that, they want to feel good about the food they’re eating.”

But not everyone has reacted positively to A&W’s new positioning. The chain’s “better beef” campaign was challenged by some Canadian beef producers, who said A&W’s claims were misleading.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said its members have used safe “growth promotants” for more than forty years that are approved by Health Canada.

But for A&W, the pushback has been a chance to open up a dialogue with producers. “One of the great parts of our experience has been a chance to get together with and get to know a lot of the producers and farmers a lot better,” said Senecal. “We’ve had many ranchers phone us who want to get involved with our program. A lot of people are excited and I think we’re actually changing how the industry views this kind of change and helping to propel things forward for Canada.”

So far, A&W’s bet on “better beef” is paying off. In Q3, same-store sales at A&W stores open for at least a year were up 5.7% in Q3, which the company attributed to the new strategy.

For competitor McDonald’s, same-store sales fell 3.3% globally and in the U.S. during the third quarter. McDonald’s is trying to combat negative perceptions about its food, and recently launched the Canadian-made “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign in the U.S. The brand is facing intense competition from Chipotle, which focuses on fresh ingredients and naturally raised meat.

A&W believes that with its new ingredients, the chain is “redefining” fast food in Canada. “We think that to make good food, you’ve got to start with great ingredients, and that’s the innovation that we’re bringing to the market,” said Senecal.

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