A&W Root Beer is a root beer brand primarily available in the United States and Canada, started in 1919 by Roy W. Allen. In 1922, Allen partnered with Frank Wright. They combined their initials to create the brand "A&W" and inspired a restaurant chain, founded in 1922. A&W root beer drinks sold for five cents.
Outside Canada, the rights to the A&W brand are owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which in turn licenses the brand to the similarly named U.S.-based restaurant chain; A&W products are distributed via various U.S. bottlers. A&W Food Services of Canada, which is independent of both DPSG and the U.S. chain, is responsible for the restaurants and the marketing of root beer products in that country, with retail products bottled and distributed by The Coca-Cola Company. The U.S. variant is also sold as an import drink in Southeast Asia and Italy (where A&W has restaurants), as well as Australia, the United Kingdom, and Chile, among other countries.
On June 20, 1919, Roy W. Allen opened a roadside root beer stand in Lodi, California, using a formula he purchased from a pharmacist. He soon opened stands in Stockton, California, and five stands in nearby Sacramento, home of the country’s first drive-in featuring "tray-boys" for curbside service. In 1920, Allen became partners with Frank Wright and the two combined their initials and called their product A&W Root Beer. A mistaken notion is that the initials were derived from Alice and Willard Marriott. This mistake arose owing to Marriott's first business, an A&W franchise
In 1924, Allen bought Wright's share, obtained a trademark, and began selling restaurant franchises. A&W was one of the first franchised restaurant chains in the United States. Franchise owners could use the A&W name and logo and purchased concentrated root beer syrup from Allen. By 1933, there were more than 170 A&W franchised outlets. There was no common menu, architecture, or procedures shared by the franchisees and some chose to sell food with the root beer.
Franchises struggled with labor shortages and sugar rationing during World War II, but following the war, the number of A&W outlets tripled as GI loans paved the way for private enterprise. Driven by the popularity of the automobile and the new mobile society, more than 450 A&W Root Beer stands were operating by 1950. In that same year, Allen retired and sold the business to Nebraskan Gene Hurtz, who formed the A&W Root Beer Company. The first A&W Root Beer outlet in Canada opened in 1956.
By 1960, the number of A&W restaurants swelled to more than 2,000. In 1963, the A&W Root Beer Company was sold to the J. Hungerford Smith Company, which had produced Allen’s concentrate since 1921. In the same year, the first overseas A&W restaurant opened its doors in Guam.
In 1963, the company was sold to the United Fruit Company, then renamed the United Brands Company. In 1971, United Brands formed a wholly owned subsidiary, A&W Distributing Co., for the purpose of making A&W Root Beer available in bottles on the grocery shelf. After a test run in Arizona and California, the products were distributed nationally in the United States, along with sugar-free, low-sodium, and caffeine-free versions. In 1974, A&W introduced "The Great Root Bear," a mascot that served as a goodwill ambassador for the brand.
In the late 1970s, A&W Restaurants was formed to manage restaurant franchising. It was bought in 1982 by A. Alfred Taubman.
In 1986, A&W Cream Soda and A&W Diet Cream Soda were introduced and distributed nationally, followed in 1987 by the reformulation of sugar-free A&W as Diet A&W.
In October 1993, A&W Beverages was folded into Cadbury Beverages. That company would spin off its US beverages business as Dr Pepper Snapple Group in 2008.
In March 2005, A&W began to appear in the Vintage Bottle, a 20-ounce bottle with graphics reminiscent of an old fashioned root beer barrel. The brand’s current tagline is, “Classic American Refreshment Since 1919.”A&W Sugar-free Root Beer was introduced in 1974, and reformulated as Diet A&W in 1987.
A&W Cream Soda and Diet Cream Soda were introduced in 1986.
A&W Floats and Sunkist Floats were introduced in 2008.
A&W TEN, a low calorie root beer, began appearing in American supermarkets in the spring of 2013.
A&W and Jim Belushi offered a trip to Los Angeles with a VIP pass to "A&W Ultimate All-American Cookout and Concert" at the House of Blues, via eBay.
The Great Root Bear, also called Rooty, is the mascot for A&W Root Beer. It was first used in 1974 by Canada's A&W, and was later adopted by the American chain. In a long-running television advertising campaign for the Canadian A&W chain, his theme was a tuba-driven jingle entitled "Ba-Dum, Ba-Dum" and released as a single by Attic Records in Canada, credited to "Major Ursus", a play on the constellation name Ursa Major, which means "great bear". In the late 1990s, the Great Root Bear's role as mascot was reduced for the restaurant chain, ultimately replaced by "The Burger Family", although it still appeared in various capacities for the restaurants and on A&W Root Beer cases in Canada. In late 2011, the new ownership of A&W began using the mascot again, particularly in A&W's online presence.
Shortly after Allen bought out Wright's portion of the business, he began franchising the product. His profits came from a small franchise fee and sales of concentrate. There was no standard food menu for franchises until 1978. By 1960, they had 2000 stores.
In 1989, A&W made an agreement with Minnesota-based chain Carousel Snack Bars to convert that chain's 200 locations (mostly kiosks in shopping malls) to "A&W Hot Dogs & More". Some A&W Hot Dogs & More locations are in operation today.
Many A&W locations that opened in the U.S. during the Yum! Brands ownership years (2002-2011) were co-branded with Yum!'s other chains—Long John Silver's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
As of December 2011, A&W was bought by new ownership and their World Headquarters moved back to Lexington, Kentucky. Since then, in the United States and Southeast Asia, A&W has been a franchisee-owned company.