TORONTO—It’s been the better part of a century since Ontario voted to throw aside prohibition, and today, 88 years later, the province’s residents can finally pick up a brew with their groceries—as long as they don’t mind traveling to one of the 58 grocery stores that have been cleared to sell six-packs so far.
The long-fought arrangement was heralded in Dec. 15 by Premier Kathleen Wynne, who purchased a six-pack of suds from a Toronto Loblaws store.
“Beer is here — in grocery stores just in time for the holidays,” Wynne said. “As we continue with the largest shakeup to beverage alcohol sales in Ontario since the end of Prohibition, people are going to enjoy increasingly convenient access to their favourite beers and more choice in where they can buy them.”
19 Loblaw locations from Thunder Bay to Stittsville have begun stocking beer today, and a total of 58 different chain locations and independent groceries are expected to be dispensing sixes by the end of the year. The program will eventually expand to 450 large and small grocers.
“This is a historic first step for our company and for the Ontario government, giving customers the greater convenience of shopping for groceries and beer in one stop,” Loblaw COO, Grant Froese, said. “We expect great demand and customer anticipation for more opportunity in our local stores throughout the province, consistent with the government’s planned roll-out.”
And while the limited beer sales expansion is expected to prove popular among consumers, Ontario’s craft brewing scene is also expected to benefit.
As beer hits grocery store shelves, Ontario Craft Brewers, the association that represents many of the province’s small brewers, said it is “very excited” about the new retail channel.
“Craft beer lovers can now find local selections in local stores. We look forward to working with grocers to offer a refreshing variety of craft beer from breweries across Ontario,” John Hay, president of OCB, said. “This new distribution channel is part of a set of changes that will create jobs and double or triple Ontario’s craft beer industry.”
While the limited number of grocery stores begin stocking brews, many LCBOs are also building up their beer aisles, giving small Ontario brewers another retail avenue.
Despite the progress, the Beer Store, which has had a virtual monopoly on beer sales in Ontario for nearly 90 years, will continue to be the exclusive retailer for 24-packs of beer, as well as most 12-packs.