So-so news on the political front

I know it’s early, and we’re *this close* to March break, so I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard, but Martin Regg Cohn broke a pretty big story for The Star this morning. You can read it here:

http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2015/03/13/large-grocers-will-get-wine-beer-under-liberals-plan-cohn.html

but the short version is that it looks like the Provincial government’s long-awaited plans to modernize beer and wine sales, is to open it up to “large grocery” chains as well. The products can be stocked in an aisle, like any other product, and will be paid for at the cash register. There isn’t any immediate info about restriction on sales hours (can I hit my 24 hour metro at 4am for a case of beer?). Also, it’s worth remembering that this is not-yet-confirmed, though I think it’s safe to assume it’s probably a pretty close representation of what we can expect.

Do we celebrate?

Well, yes, a bit I think. This is a step in the right direction. But let’s be clear about something. The main thing we’re going to get is convenience, and maybe a bit of a price break on the bigger brands (maybe).

This does not help out craft brewers much, if at all.

The average person might not realize this, but getting a product sold at a major grocery store is a giant undertaking, with staggering order sizes, strict sales requirements, and shelving fees that decide if your product gets one facing or twelve (thats how many rows of products are visible along the shelf) and if it’s at eye-level towards the end of the aisle, or at foot level in the middle. Depending on the category and the store, these fees can easily out-price The Beer Store’s listing fees. And that doesn’t even get into the “grey area” of sales calls…. I doubt most craft brewers would bother.

I asked Jason Fisher from Indie Alehouse what his thoughts were. Jason has long been an advocate for opening up alcohol sales in the province, and is never shy with his opinion.

“It’s hopeful, but it will likely be garbage.”

Jason’s major concern, the question he says he’s had since he “was born”, is simply this: Why does the government allow 3 breweries the right to operate an off-site retail chain, but no others? Letting grocery stores sell doesn’t address this at all. His point, and one echoed by a few other brewers I’ve now spoken to, is that this is still just the provincial government looking out for their own interests. They have effectively taken the majority of beers sales from The Beer Store, who were major political donors, as were the companies that own them, and shifted it to enormous grocery chains, who are also major political donors. If you run a small independent grocery, too bad. Same if you’re a small brewery in a rural area, but you’d like to open a bottle shop in the nearest city.

He was also concerned with the fact that there still has been little consultation with the small brewers on this. An idea also evident in discussion with Jeff Manol of Muddy York. Muddy York is one of the smaller operations in Toronto, and Jeff felt that if there was the possibility of dealing store-by-store, that this could be very good indeed. But he has no idea, because nobody has been in touch with him.

The only ray of hope I have for a better situation is this: it’s possible (as noted by Joe MacPhee on Facebook this morning), that this is a baby-step, and when there isn’t rampant anarchy from more convenient alcohol sales, they will then open it up to more retailers. Maybe, as I pointed out, just in time for the next election. I asked Jason if he agreed:

“You are giving way too much credit to politicians. Nobody in our government is thinking two steps ahead.”

Thanks Jason.

Full Audio Of This News

One Comment

  1. Chris Perks
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    It is surely disciminatory to limit open sales to the large grocery retailers, as the smaller independents should surely be entitled to equal opportunity and if so would the ideal channel for craft brewers. Ultimately this will mean the end of The Beer Store, as in my experience of both market profiles the customers will choose the one stop option of the grocery store.

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