Beer in Ontario convenience stores could be ‘closer than further away’

A promise by Premier Doug Ford to permit beer and wine sales in Ontario corner stores may have fallen flat years ago, but new life could be brewing behind the scenes.

By Richard Southern and Mike Visser

A promise by Premier Doug Ford to permit beer and wine sales in Ontario corner stores may have fallen flat years ago, but new life could be brewing behind the scenes.

“We’re going to fulfill that promise,” said Premier Doug Ford during an unrelated press conference. “At the end of the day, we need to have convenience for the consumer.”

The idea of expanding beer and wine sales to convenience stores was first floated by Ford during the 2018 provincial election campaign. At the time, the Conservative leader promised to make the idea a reality as soon as possible. Five years later, the concept appears to be inching closer to reality.

“I would hope even by next Victoria Day weekend there could be a level of independent, family-run convenience stores throughout rural Ontario selling cold beer on a hot summer weekend,” said Dave Bryans, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. “I still think it’s closer than further away.”

Bryans admits that several logistical and distribution hurdles would need to be cleared before alcohol products land on convenience store shelves across the province. A significant regulatory hurdle also remains, as provincial officials would first need to negotiate a new deal with the Beer Store to allow for expanded sales in other retail outlets.

“There is a contract with the Beer Stores,” said Ford. “We’re going to be working with them and our goal is to make sure there’s beer and wine sold in… the convenience stores.”

“A lot of people are in the misunderstanding that the Beer Stores are owned by the government,” added Ford. “They aren’t, they’re owned by three massive beer companies, foreign may I add, foreign beer companies, and I just don’t think that monopoly is right, especially owned by three big conglomerates.”

While wine and beer can already be purchased in hundreds of grocery stores across the province, the head of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association believes beer companies are hampering their own sales by sticking to the existing model.

“If I was the owner of the Beer Store, the three big companies, I would start looking at a transition,” said Bryans. “Convenience stores throughout the U.S. and Canada are the biggest sellers of beer for the beer companies except in Ontario.”

Bryans also believes the addition of alcohol would greatly boost the bottom line for convenience store owners.

“Think of the millions of people who stand in the beer store every weekend or every week buying just beer, shoring up the profits of these big companies when they could be standing in a convenience store and increasing the sales in the store and the traffic,” said Bryans. “Lottery ticket sales, potato chips, peanuts, the incremental products that would go along with cold beer on a hot summer day would be immense for the whole channel and the consumers.”

The idea of selling alcohol in corner stores already has the support of Ontario Craft Brewers. The trade association claims many of its members struggle to get their product on the shelves in the Beer Store or LCBO.

While some question the safety aspects of making alcohol available in corner stores, Bryans insists there is no inherent danger.

“You can look at Alberta and B.C., you can look at Quebec. There have been no documented major issues with selling beer in local convenience stores. We’re the most responsible at age testing. We’ve proven it by selling tobacco, vape products and even the government’s own lottery. No, there is no issue.”

“There is a social responsibility here,” said Marit Sties, Ontario NDP leader. “We need to make sure that the people who are working around the sale of alcohol and liquor, beer and alcohol, are trained and professional.”

“It’s just this incremental progress over the years as to the liberalization of alcohol sales,” said John Fraser, interim Ontario Liberal leader. “I think we should have a conversation about it. That’s what Ontarians want and they understand what we’re giving up and what we’re getting.”

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