NEWS ON BREWS: CRAFT BREWS BELONG IN CORNER STORES
By Vito Pilieci
Another week has passed and the Ontario government has passed on another opportunity to modernize the draconian way in which the province deals with alcohol sales.
Premier Kathleen Wynne came out swinging last Tuesday, shooting down any chance that liquor laws would be loosened to give consumers more choice about where to buy their booze.
Wynne was responding to a formal request by the Ontario Convenience Store Association, which represents such retailers as Mac’s Convenience Stores, Petro Canada and Canadian Tire.
The association has once more launched a submission to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to modernize the province’s liquor laws. It argues that corner stores would offer a more convenient location for booze sales and could do a better job of offering local beer and wine products to consumers than the megalithic LCBO or Beer Store regime that is currently in place.
I tend to agree.
Really, given the renaissance in Ontario’s microbrew industry, it’s about time we rethought things. I’m not advocating for a dissolution of the LCBO. But Ontario should change how it distributes product. Allowing for more local retailers to sell beer and wine specifically, is long overdue.
The government’s hesitation to move forward with changes that would allow corner stores to sell alcohol is puzzling, especially since more than 219 corner stores across the province already do. You don’t need to go far to find one of those stores either. In Ottawa’s south end, corner stores licensed to sell booze can be found in places like North Gower and Osgoode. In those shops you can buy milk, eggs, a frozen pizza and a 12-pack of beer or bottle of wine.
The workers at those stores are held every bit as accountable as workers at the LCBO or Beer Store for validating the age of a purchaser, or ensuring that already intoxicated people don’t get their hands on more booze. Guess what? Considering many people didn’t even realize that alcohol is being sold at hundreds of Ontario corner stores goes to tell you that the arrangement works. There haven’t been rampant complaints. Had there been, the stores would have lost their licences to sell booze long ago.
The argument that LCBO employees can somehow do a better job of keeping booze out of the hands of minors is ridiculous. Ask any police officer who has broken up a bush party where alcohol flows how many kids were of legal drinking age. The fact that “fishing” outside the Beer Store or LCBO, in which a minor begs adults to buy booze for them, has made its way as a term into popular culture, suggests that the status quo is far from effective.
Of the 6.3 million people who were “challenged” by LCBO employees in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, only 290,000 were turned away and denied the chance to buy alcohol. A total of 84 per cent of those people turned away were deemed to be under age.
If convenience store clerks can be trusted to ask for identification from smokers, why couldn’t they be trusted to check identification from people wanting to buy alcohol?
Furthermore, for whatever reason, the province decided to turn a blind eye to its own liquor sales policies long ago by allowing a handful of internationally owned mega-brewers to open stores across the province to sell their wares. Brewers Retail, now The Beer Store, was born, and has grown to sell more than just beer. It now sells coolers, vodka-based drinks and other alcoholic beverages.
To be fair, the Beer Store has done a good job of serving the public. The question now is, will it continue to do so?
There are more than 35 micro-breweries in Ontario, offering consumers more than 150 different brands of beer, according to the province’s own statistics.
How many of those can you find at the Beer Store? Not many. And, there is a pretty good reason for that. According to the LCBO’s annual report for 2011-2012, the most recent available, sales of beer brewed by members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association increased by 45 per cent when compared to previous year’s totals. When compared to sales in the 2006-2007 time period, craft beer sales are up more than 400 per cent, according to the LCBO.
These sales aren’t happening in a vacuum. Overall beer sales at the LCBO hit $908.8 million during the year, a $35-million, or 4-per-cent, increase.
Ontarians aren’t drinking much more beer than they have traditionally. They are just becoming more selective with regard to what they are buying, which is hammering away at the market share that the big international breweries once enjoyed unchallenged.
The growth is just starting. According to the craft brewers association, craft brewers don’t even account yet for 15 per cent of the total market share for beer sales. Some estimates put craft beer sales well below 10 per cent of total annual sales.
Despite the small market share, Ontario brewers employ more than 600 workers in the province. That accounts for 20 per cent of all brewery jobs in Ontario. Their share of the market continues to grow and new brewers are being announced monthly.
Craft brewers are creating jobs, supporting their local communities and, most, if not all, are supporting local farmers.
Which brings back the convenience store association’s argument about getting beer on their shelves. One key point of the argument is that it would allow for better representation of craft-brewed products across the province.
This is what is happening in Quebec, where beer can be sold in corner stores. Stores that differentiate themselves by offering local craft beer have tapped into a booming market. Just one example: Marché Omni, on Rue Bégin in Gatineau’s Hull sector, have become legendary among beer lovers because it skips over much of the mass- produced beer offerings and devotes more than 80 per cent of its shelf space to craft beers from some of the province’s smallest microbreweries. Within the store, an entire end cap section is dedicated to beer offerings from Brasseurs Du Temps, which is a 15-minute walk away.
For microbreweries that are far too small to brew big enough batches to sell to large SAQ outlets, Quebec’s version of the LCBO, places like Marché Omni are a godsend. The corner stores are willing to buy beer in smaller amounts and stock limited edition offerings, small batches and seasonal stuff that would never see the light of day in either the Beer Store or the LCBO.
And then there’s the rise of specialty beer stores like Bieres Du Monde in Aylmer and Brou Ha Ha in Gatineau. They focus exclusively on small Quebec-made craft beers. These stores work much the same as the familiar Wine Rack stores, which are owned by Canada’s largest producer of wine, Vincor, except that they are independently owned.
With outlets for mega-producers of both beer and wine already in place across the province, it’s time to help the burgeoning market for product from small local microbrewers find shelf space in Ontario. The proposal from the convenience store association makes perfect sense.
Read the whole story here: http://www.ottawacitizenstyle.com/category/food-and-drink/news-on-brews-craft-brews-belong-in-corner-stores/