C-Store Beer Fight Continues as Ontario Says 'No'

Retailers unveil initiative that would dedicate third of retail space to local wines, beers

Charles Sousa

Charles Sousa

TORONTO -- The Ontario government will not allow corner stores to sell beer and wine, but will broaden availability of beer and wine through specialty outlets and grocery stores, Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed on Tuesday, reported the Canadian Press.

Meanwhile, Ontario's leading chain convenience store companies, including 7-Eleven, Alimentation Couche-Tard and Petro-Canada, a Suncor Energy business, announced on Tuesday that when Ontario modernizes its alcohol retailing system, Ontario craft brewers and wineries will be the first to benefit. The retailers announced a plan to voluntarily set aside at least 30% of beer and wine retail space for Ontario wines and craft beer, creating significantly more consumer exposure and retailing opportunities.

Convenience Store Ontario Craft Beer & Ontario Wine Pledge

Ontario convenience stores already sell alcohol in almost 200 locations in Ontario through the LCBO Agency Store program.

Ontario Convenience Stores Association members have been shown through independent testing to be the best at age checks, stopping more minors from purchasing age-restricted products than the government-run LCBO or the foreign-owned Beer Store.

Ontario Convenience Stores Association members have demonstrated they're ready for the responsibility to offer alcohol at more locations, and to help the Ontario government grow the $1.7 billion in profit that the LCBO already contributes.

Convenience stores are local businesses and want to support the growth of the rich and diverse Ontario craft beer and Ontario wine industries in the province.

As local businesses, convenience stores want to create new opportunities for local craft brewers and wine producers to showcase their products right in their own communities.

To achieve this, Ontario Convenience Stores Association members pledge to:

  • Voluntarily set aside a minimum of about one-third (30%) of alcohol retail space to promote, display and sell Ontario craft beer and Ontario wines when expanded alcohol retailing comes to Ontario.
  • Boost local craft beer and Ontario wines by focusing on stocking local brands, and giving them greater exposure right in the communities and regions where they're created.

"Convenience stores are local community retailers, and we're perfectly suited to help promote and support Ontario's local craft breweries and Ontario wineries. Our pledge will mean that, in addition to the space that [Liquor Control Board of Ontario] provides, even smaller Ontario wines and craft beer will have guaranteed access to a large dedicated space in retailers around the province," said Dave Bryans, president of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA). "Even better, by working with the LCBO as Ontario's wholesaler of alcohol, it would mean that the Ontario government would benefit too, through bigger profits for the LCBO and more revenue for priorities like education and health care."

Retailers signing the pledge include 7-Eleven Canada, Mac's Convenience Stores (Couche-Tard), Petro-Canada, Hasty Market, Rabba Fine Foods, Daisy Mart, Quickie Convenience, Winks, Avondale and more.

"Not only does our plan dedicate 30% of space to Ontario craft beer and wines, so they don't have to fight the big brewers for shelf space, it also allows small craft brewers and Ontario wineries access to a modern, established distribution and logistics system to get their products into stores," said Bryans. "Our distribution partners have the ability to cost-effectively ship even a single bottle of wine or six-pack of beer to individual stores. Gone are the days when stores needed to buy in large quantities and manufacturers needed to own fleets of trucks for distribution."

"We have a terrific distribution network and we're going to continue to work with the LCBO to increase that distribution network," Ontario Premier Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters, according to the the Canadian Press. "This is an issue that has two schools of thought on it, and I'm quite sure right now my constituency office is getting calls on both sides of this issue."

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said while the government plans to put LCBO outlets in some grocery stores, it will not allow sales of beer and wine in corner stores. "The way our operations are now in place is the way that I intend to be keeping them," said Sousa, who is responsible for the oversight of the LCBO, according to the CP. "At this point, we're going to stick with the framework and the plan that we have."

He said Sousa said the government-run liquor stores and the foreign-owned Beer Store do a good job of keeping minors from buying alcohol.

The c-store association also wants the province to restrict what products the Beer Store can sell, complaining some locations offer "confectionery goods, clothing, gift cards, and barbecue paraphernalia" such as propane tanks.

"The fact that The Beer Store was granted a monopoly in this province to sell beer products, rightly or wrongly, should be reason enough to limit them from competing with businesses that currently do not have the same government granted ability," the association said in a submission to Ontario's Alcohol & Gaming Commission.

"In not prescribing a set list that is considered fair by our sector, The Beer Store will always have the potential to become 'convenience stores that sell beer' and put legitimate family run stores out of business."

There are already 219 LCBO agency stores inside convenience stores in communities that aren't large enough to support a regular liquor store, and the government plans to put LCBO Express outlets in 10 grocery stores as a pilot project, reported the news agency.

The government has also been "investing heavily" to promote the sales of Vintners' Quality Alliance wines through private stores, added Sousa. "In fact, we just came out with new boutique stores that highlight home grown wines and local craft beers," he said.

The Beer Store, which is owned by Anheuser-Busch of Belgium, Molson Coors of the United States and Sapporo of Japan, said small Ontario brewers can list their products in as many of its 447 retail locations as they want, and can set their own prices.