Beer and Wine Coming to Ontario Supermarkets?
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Beer and Wine Coming to Ontario Supermarkets?

Ontario's brewers and convenience-store representatives weigh in on the decision on the table.

Photo by Robin LeBlanc

Pretty soon you may be able to add beer and wine to that grocery list.

According to a report put out by Martin Regg Cohn at the Toronto Star this morning, in an effort to loosen the grip of the Beer Store’s hold on Ontario beer retail, the government will grant licenses to sell craft and national beers to potentially hundreds of major supermarkets throughout the province. Additionally, as many as 200 stores will be able to carry Ontario and imported wines, though current trade laws will make that more complex. Hard liquor will continue to be restricted to the LCBO.

While no final decisions have been made on this, the Star’s sources say these are the rough outlines that have emerged from the government-appointed panel that recently met with top grocery store executives to discuss the scenario. The policy is expected to be the centrepiece of the government’s spring budget.

The Beer Store will continue to operate, but will have to pay a “franchise fee” that could potentially level the playing field for retailers.

The Ontario Convenience Stores Association has responded by maintaining that allowing chain convenience stores the same access would ensure a fair retail structure. “Chain convenience stores have more experience selling alcohol than any other private retailer,” they said in a statement today. “We do this responsibly and it’s something we’re going to keep talking about because it’s important to our customers and our industry.” Meanwhile, Ontario Craft Brewers has stated that its position on retail access in Ontario remains unchanged from its previously released position.

Cam Heaps, chair of Ontario Craft Brewers and co-founder of Steam Whistle Brewing, said in a statement, “A key aspect for Craft Brewers is that any new access, whatever form it takes, is affordable and that it does not allow large players to purchase all of the shelf space. Shelf-space fees are illegal in many US states for that very reason.” In the same statement, Ontario Craft Brewers president John Hay said, “There are many ways to structure increased retail access and we will continue to work with government on this and follow the process they have laid out.”

While this potential scenario brings forth many questions—and dissatisfies many who hoped for a more open beer retail scene involving specialized bottle shops and beer sales in convenience stores—the sale of beer in Ontario supermarkets could either be moving the beer retail power from one entity to another, or it could be a step in the right direction, which might herald the beginning of something better than the Ontario beer drinkers currently have.