Canadian Manufacturing

Craft brewers not buying Ontario’s new Beer Store deal

Independent brewers say they want to open their own off-site stores



TORONTO—Some of Ontario’s small brewers worry the government’s new deal with the Beer Store that promises to nearly triple their shelf space in the company’s 447 retail outlets won’t achieve that goal.

Under the province’s revised agreement with the foreign-owned Beer Store, the amount of shelf space for products from small and craft brewers is supposed to grow from seven to 20 per cent.

However, Matt Johnston of Collective Arts Brewing says the increased shelf space will apply only to 100 self-serve stores, not the majority of regular Beer Stores where the product is kept out of sight, behind the counter.

Asked if small brewers will get 20 per cent of the warehouse or cooler space behind the Beer Store’s cash registers, the Ministry of Finance said “logistics are still under consideration.”

Johnston wants the government to mandate that the Beer Store “tear down the wall” and convert all its stores to open-concept.

The Beer Store promised to spend $100 million over four years to modernize its retail outlets, and agreed all new stores will be open-concept and self-serve.

The changes to beer sales came from the recommendations of an expert panel headed by former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark.

“Ed Clark and the council have agreed to remain in place to help the government develop and oversee the exact approach,” said Kelsey Ingram, press secretary to Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

The government made “a big leap forward” but should pass regulations to make sure small brewers get their guaranteed increase in larger share of shelf space, marketing and promotional materials, said Johnston.

“With us being _ for lack of a better word _ oppressed for so many years, it needs to be legally mandated that there is a minimum amount of space for the local craft brewers,” he said. “There’s no point in saying you’ll give us 20 per cent unless consumers can see it on the shelf.”

Jason Fisher of Indie Ale House said independent brewers would like to open their own off-site stores, and wonders why grocery stores will be allowed to sell his products but he can’t. Fisher said he is skeptical about a deal with the Beer Store.

“The problem with the Beer Store is … my competitors’ employees are looking out for selling my beer, which is just ludicrous,” he said. “It’s an unfair system, so whether they’re 20 per cent less unfair or not is ridiculous.”

Having their own beer stores would be great, but that was “a step too far” for the Liberal government, said Cam Heaps of Steam Whistle Brewing.

“I think the government made it very clear early on that they wanted to make fundamental change, but they didn’t want to make radical change,” said Heaps.

The Beer Store was owned by a consortium of Ontario-based brewers when it was set up in 1927 as Brewers’ Retail, but is now owned by Molson-Coors of the United States, AB InBev of Belgium and Sapporo of Japan.

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