TORONTO—The people who make craft ciders say their beverages are a gluten-free alternative to beer, but Ontario regulations are putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
The Ontario Craft Cider Association says its members are licensed like wineries, but cannot qualify for the VQA designation given to top wines, and really compete with craft beers in the eyes of consumers.
Spokesman Thomas Wilson says craft cider companies are in a regulatory limbo that allows craft brewers in the province to set lower prices, and need a level playing field to grow the industry.
Craft cideries must pay a 40 per cent LCBO mark up on beverages sold directly to restaurants and pubs, which Wilson calls a “huge disadvantage” because craft brewers do not pay any fee.
He says the cider industry is exploding in Ontario, especially among young people looking for the “next new thing,” but cannot list its products in The Beer Store or in private wine stores.
Wilson says craft cideries want guaranteed shelf space in LCBO stores under a designated Ontario section, and says it’s “a shame” that 77 per cent of all cider now sold in provincial liquor stores is imported.
The cider sector could help Ontario’s struggling apple industry, which has seen virtually no change in price for juice apples for decades because there is very little demand in the province, said Wilson.
Ontario’s apple and cider sectors go together just like the wine and grape sectors, he added.
“They could start growing apples specifically for the cider industry,” said Wilson. “It’s exponential, the opportunity here that’s being missed.”
There was only one craft cidery in Ontario in 2008, which has now grown to 22, and cider has become the fastest growing category in the LCBO’s stores.