TORONTO (Reuters) - The bid by Canada’s largest grocer for its largest pharmacy chain is just the latest move by the Weston family, Canada’s second-richest clan, to expand a food and clothing empire that began 131 years ago with a Toronto bread factory.
The C$12.4 billion friendly bid from the Weston family’s Loblaw Companies Ltd for Shoppers Drug Mart Corp would add another jewel to a crown that already includes Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason in Britain, upscale retailers like Holt Renfrew in Canada and Brown Thomas in Ireland, and bakeries and groceries across North America.
It shows that the Weston family won’t let foreign competition dominate Canadian retailing without a fight, despite the arrival of Target Corp in Canada earlier this year and the ubiquity of Wal-Mart stores across Canada.
Toronto-based Loblaws is one of the few remaining Canadian powerhouses on the domestic retail scene, the banners of many of its various brands decked out with a small maple leaf.
The Westons, who own 63 percent of Loblaws through family-run George Weston Ltd, are known within Canada both for their philanthropy and for their propensity to give their sons names that start with the letter “G” - George, Garfield, Galen and Garry, among others.
The family’s patriarch, George Weston, took over a Toronto bakery in 1882 and expanded with his son Garfield to become England’s largest biscuit maker during the war years.
The family owns or controls dozens of retailers and food companies through George Weston Ltd in Canada and Wittington Investments in Britain, which in turn owns a majority stake in Associated British Foods, Fortnum & Mason and Heal & Son.
The family remains heavily involved in all branches of its retail and food empire, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren of George running both the retail and philanthropic sides of the Weston businesses around the world.
The Westons have also been active in politics and public service. George’s son Garfield Weston served as a Conservative member of Parliament in Britain during the Second World War. The elder Galen Weston’s wife, Hilary Weston, was lieutenant governor of Ontario from 1997 to 2002.
More recently, Galen Weston Jr, Galen’s son and George Weston’s 40-year-old great-grandson, became Canada’s public face of the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse when he took responsibility for its Joe Fresh brand’s manufacturing presence in the impoverished country.
Some 1,132 garment workers died when a badly maintained factory building collapsed in Bangladesh in April.
The Westons are worth $8 billion, according to Forbes, putting them just behind Canada’s richest family, the Thomsons, owners of Thomson Reuters, who were worth C$24.4 billion, according to Canadian Business magazine.
The Weston family’s philanthropic foundation, the UK-based Garfield Weston Foundation, has donated more than 680 million pounds ($1.03 billion) since its creation 55 years ago.
($1 = 1.0409 Canadian dollars) ($1 = 0.6621 British pounds)
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Leslie Adler