W. Galen Weston, a polo partner of Prince Charles who transformed and expanded the international food empire founded by his grandfather, a baker, and went on to collect luxury department stores, died on April 12 at his home in Toronto. He was 80.
His death was announced by George Weston Ltd., the family-controlled holding company where he had been chairman until retiring in 2016. The announcement did not say what the cause was.
When Mr. Weston joined the family business in 1961, it controlled bakeries in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia, as well as food shops including Fortnum & Mason, grocer to Queen Elizabeth, and British, Canadian and American supermarkets and food wholesalers. Dairies, chocolate makers and a Canadian paper mill were also in the mix.
In 1972, after working for the business in Ireland, Mr. Weston was given the unenviable task of deciding the fate of Loblaw Groceterias, a Canadian supermarket chain the family had gradually taken control of by 1956. Burdened with debt and poor sales, the chain was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
“No Name” products that promised to exchange fancy packaging for low prices and quality.
some American grocers began buying or licensing the products. Walmart hired Loblaws to develop similar products for its stores in the United States.
“The impact was profound,” said Daniel Bender, a cultural historian of food at the University of Toronto. “Loblaws upscaled their stores so that they were meant to look like a market rather than a supermarket.”
Willard Gordon Galen Weston was born on Oct. 29, 1940, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England. He was the youngest of nine children of Willard Garfield Weston, who had become president of the family company in 1924, and Reta Lila (Howard) Weston, a former schoolteacher.
The family returned to Canada after World War II. According to a brief profile in The New York Times in 1978, as a young man Mr. Weston was “the archetypical playboy of the Western world” who “chased girls and spent almost as many college hours in movie theaters as in the classroom.”
initially struggled when Walmart added fresh groceries to its Canadian stores in 2006, and the botched launch of a new inventory system led to empty shelves in Loblaws stores and bulging warehouses for the company.
Mr. Weston left Mr. Nichol (and his French bulldog, Georgie Girl) to be the face of Loblaws in television commercials and in print advertisements. But he did regularly visit Loblaws stores, both to speak with shoppers and to inspect the store’s garbage, one of his preferred indicators of efficiency.
the lieutenant governor of Ontario — Queen Elizabeth’s proxy in the province — in 1997. She served in that position for five years.
Mr. Weston’s wife survives him, as do his son, Galen, who succeeded him as chairman and chief executive of George Weston; his daughter, Alannah Weston, the chairwoman of Selfridges Group; five of his siblings, Grainger Weston, Nancy Baron, Wendy Rebanks, Gretchen Bauta and Camilla Dalglish; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Weston’s transformation of George Weston was underscored not long before his death when the company announced that it was selling the last of its bakeries, long its predominant operation, to focus on its grocery stores and real estate holdings.