Follow-Up: Long Live the Beer Store

I have this sinking feeling that the March issue of my beer column in The Windsor Independent is going to be the most widely-read thing I’ve ever done. That being likely, I want to clarify something: The Beer Store is not the villain of the piece.

Even in the short amount of time since my article made the rounds, it has become increasingly obvious that the Beer Store is a heartless, fear-mongering enterprise that will stop at nothing to maintain its monopoly on private alcohol sales in Ontario. Case in point, the new Beer Store-managed Twitter feed “Ontario Beer Facts” (@ONBeerFacts), where they play fast and loose with the definition of “Facts”.

2014415-beer-store-adWorse yet is their 80s PSA-inspired TV ad in which they suggest that convenience store clerks are evil, pedophilic incompetents.

This contrasts with my experience in Vancouver last week at the (privately owned) Brewery Creek Liquor Store. I asked a staff member which beers were must-trys for somebody only in town for a couple days and he basically gave me a crash-course in BC beer. He was passionate, articulate, and really knew his shit.

Would you get that kind of treatment from a Beer Store clerk? No chance. That kind of behaviour could get them fired – no joke! Beer Store employees are prohibited from recommending anything, probably because the owners, Molson and Labatt, know that no educated beer drinker would ever recommend their products in good faith.

Vancouver Sun: Ontario’s Beer Store thinks its customers are stupid

So yes, there’s a bottomless bucket of problems to be had with the Beer Store. But that’s missing the point. The Beer Store isn’t really the problem. The problem is that the government of Ontario will not allow anyone to compete with the Beer Store.

The monopoly is the government’s doing, not the Beer Store’s. I’m not advocating for the closure of the Beer Store, I’m advocating for the government to allow fair competition.

The Beer Store is owned by three multi-national brewing companies. This in itself is not a problem so long as other breweries are allowed the equal right to own off-premise retail outlets, but the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has denied the Ontario Craft Brewers Association (OCB) that right, with no real justification.

The Beer Store satisfies the needs of the average beer drinker, and does a good job of it. But the Beer Store’s predatory tactics toward Ontario brewers and Ontario bars is harmful to our beer culture and to our economy. Our local brewers are expected to pay in the thousands for the right to sell beer at a store owned by their competitors. Our local bars are forced to purchase stock from the Beer Store at a totally unnecessary, money-grubbing mark-up.

Is anybody surprised? Don’t call out the Beer Store for behaving like a monopoly, call out the AGCO and the Ontario government for allowing it to stay that way.


3 thoughts on “Follow-Up: Long Live the Beer Store

  1. My issue with this is that you think the Beer Store sets the price points for it’s products. Each individual brewer submits their pricing to the LCBO for approval and then the LCBO forwards that to the Beer Store. Also, the listing fees are not that high. Last time I checked their website it was abotu 2800 to become a company that sells products there and then between $250 – $500 dollars per store listing – and they can choose whichever stores they want to list in.

    • I think the regular prices at the Beer Store are fine, but it’s silly to say the Beer Store doesn’t set the prices for it’s products when it’s the owners of the Beer Store that are setting the prices for 9 out of 10 of their best-sellers. On top of that, the per-case price for bars and restaurants is not based on the prices the brewers set through the LCBO, it’s a flat 44.75 for standard domestics, most of which owned by the owners of the Beer Store.

      I don’t think you quite understood how the listing fees work:

      “There are two fees that TBS charges breweries to have their products sold in its store. The first is a one time listing fee with a base charge of $2,650.14 plus $212.02 per store that the product is sold in. This amount is paid per product that the brewery would like to sell. For example, if a brewery had six distinct brands of beer and wanted to sell each brand in packages of 6, 12, and 24, they would need to pay a listing fee for 18 products. The second is what TBS refers to as a “handling fee.” This fee is charged at between $43.40/hectolitres and $49.40/ hectolitres or between $3.65 and $4.15 for every case of 24 beers. Both of these fees only apply to non-owner breweries.”

      That’s from a winter 2012 study by the Fraser Institute authored by Hugh MacIntyre:

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