Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Willard Garfield Weston

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Willard Garfield Weston (1898–1978), food manufacturer and industrialist and was a Canadian businessman and philanthropist who led George Weston Limited and its various subsidiaries and associated companies, including Associated British Foods, for half a century and established one of the world's largest food processing and distribution concerns. He also served as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons during World War II.

Weston's first acquisition was the biscuit division of Mitchell and Muil, a century-old Scottish baker, in 1933. He closed the antiquated plant at Aberdeen and moved production to a new facility with modern equipment at Edinburgh, with the intent of mass-producing a more affordable line of quality biscuits. "He sold fancy biscuits at exactly half the price at which they were sold by the world-famous firms all around him and he coined money." Fifteen months after entering the British market, Garfield Weston reported sales equal to the parent Canadian company. He further announced his intention to establish bread and biscuit operations at strategic locations throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.

Within a few years, Weston had acquired a string of biscuit and bread plants in the United Kingdom. In order to manage the growing overseas venture, he moved his family to England in 1935. By 1937, with 15 plants, employing more than 15,000 workers under the Allied Bakeries banner, Weston was being referred to in the Canadian press as "Britain's Biggest Baker". By 1939, he controlled 30 bakeries throughout the British Isles.

The post war years saw Garfield Weston continue to expand his overseas holdings, including brands such as Ryvita, acquired in 1949. That same year, his British holding company, with 47 subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, established its first bakery units in Australia

In 1955, his Allied Bakeries purchased ABC, the Aerated Bread Co, England's second largest chain of eateries, with 164 budget tea shops and restaurants. Meanwhile, ten percent of all bread in Great Britain was baked in Weston plants while 20 million Weston-made biscuits were eaten daily by the British public.

During the mid-1950s, Garfield Weston began developing a chain of British grocery stores under the Fine Fare banner, but early on the venture struggled with losses. In 1961, the chain undertook a major expansion with 130 new stores opened in 15 months. At one point, Weston introduced Canadian management in an attempt to turn the chain around. Ownership was transferred to George Weston Limited but then switched to Associated British Foods. Fine Fare evolved into the largest supermarket chain in Great Britain with some 1,000 stores and by the 1960s turned profitable

Weston's Associated British Foods, successor to Allied Bakeries, also acquired Twinings, the well-known British brand of tea.

As Garfield Weston approached his 70th year, it was announced that he was stepping down as Chairman of Associated British Foods in favour of his son Garry Weston, who first took charge of Ryvita in 1951 and then spent more than a decade expanding company operations in Australia

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