The A.O. Wilson Advantage: Our Company through the Years
“A heritage of quality and a tradition of excellence”
In many ways, the story of A.O. Wilson mirrors the story of the alcoholic beverages industry in Canada. As a supplier for producers of alcoholic beverages, the growth of our company has gone hand-in-hand with the struggles faced by these businesses. From our initial rise in the 1940s to a recent surge with local wineries, micro-breweries, cideries,and micro-distilleries, A.O. Wilson owes its enduring success to a loyal customer base that appreciates the knowledge and experience we bring to the table.
A.O. Wilson’s legacy is 100% Canadian. Founder and namesake A.O. Wilson started the company in 1945, bringing years of experience from the copper metal business to the brewing industry. Under his leadership, the company supplied all major Canadian breweries, as well as many in the U.S. and the U.K. This was at a time when industry mainstays such as the Molson Company and Canadian Breweries Limited were actively expanding across the country.
It was an exciting time to be working in the business. Little over a decade had passed since the end of U.S. prohibition, while in Canada—where prohibition was controlled by the provinces—it had been largely over since the 1920s. Nevertheless, provincial regulations kept the distribution of alcohol tightly regulated by liquor boards and publicly-owned businesses (such as the LCBO and the Beer Store in Ontario). By the 1960s, expansion had reached its limit and the majority of Canadian beer was produced by only a couple of major breweries.
The 1970s were a huge period of growth for wineries in Canada. It was during this time that A.O. Wilson began to expand into this sector, with the younger A.R. Wilson taking a major role alongside his father. There was a reason for this shift in focus. After prohibition, Canada had issued a moratorium on new winery licenses, but the act was repealed in 1974. This led to the sudden rise of wine-makers across the country and A.O. Wilson grew alongside them.
Continuing our commitment to providing top of the line equipment for the beverages industry, A.O. Wilson Ltd began to form partnerships with companies in South Africa and Europe, existing leaders in the area. Using these connections, we were able to assist the growth of small wineries in Canada by offering the same technological advantages as already-established wineries. This edge helped newcomers deal with the various challenges unique to Canada, such as its colder climate and growing conditions.
As technology for the wine industry has advanced, we have stayed with it every step of the way. We have expanded our product range to include equipment for crushing and processing grapes, as well as corks, packaging and bottle capsules. Since many of our products come from overseas, we maintain a huge inventory in our 20,000+ square foot warehouse facility, located in Erin, Ontario.
During the early 1980s, the Canadian brewing industry was almost entirely controlled by its three largest companies: Molson, Labatt and Carling O’Keefe. There was not much variety and, as a result, beer lovers began to get tired of the available styles. Local brewpubs started to open, particularly in B.C. and Ontario, selling hoppier beers, stouts and more creative flavours to the public.
The rise of the craft beer began in the early 1990s and continues to be a trend within the beverages industry today. Buying from micro-breweries is an idea that aligns closely with the values of the modern consumer, who place a premium on locally-sourced food and drink. The same holds true for smaller wineries, distilleries, cideries and companies offering “brew it yourself” options. For all of these smaller businesses, A.O. Wilson’s inventory and experience provides a “one stop shop” resource that can be relied upon in any scenario. In 1998, the company was fortunate to be able to grow their team with a western sales representative in the person of Mr. Hubert Oliver.
At the start of the new millennium, R. Graham Wilson took over the business from his father, bringing a third generation of leadership and transitioning A.O. Wilson into this new era. The company moved to Erin, increasing their team steadily. Final construction of the new warehouse was completed in 2012, giving A.O. Wilson the facilities to stock more inventory than ever before and serve businesses across the country.
Over the years, A.O. Wilson’s struggles have reflected the struggles of the beverages industry, particularly during times when the growth of these businesses faltered. Our successes have been tied to their successes. We take pride in the fact that our products have fed the growth of the beverages industry within Canada, but we know our own development was enabled by the innovative winemakers, cider-makers, still-masters and brew-masters who continue to drive this industry forward.
Our greatest achievements are the strong partnerships that we’ve formed between international suppliers and local producers. The quality of these products is an advantage we pass onto our customers within Canada. Family-owned and operated, A.O. Wilson brings a personal touch, generations of expertise, and the reliability that comes along with that legacy.