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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ontario: "Lowest Price for Beer in Canada" - Minister

Back in the summer when the Toronto Star was running their three part series on the Beer Store, I wrote a lengthy letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty inquiring about the way in which beer is distributed, and sold in this province.

A month or two later I received a short paragraph from the Premier's office stating that Ontarians have many outlets in which to purchase beer. The paragraph went on to talk about wine and how easy it is for an Ontario citizen to purchase the beverage, especially since there are wine stores in grocery stores. I was shocked. Nowhere in my 2 1/2 page letter did I mention wine. I responded to their answer, and two months after that I received another short answer, however the paragraph did mention that my correspondence would be forwarded to the Minister of Finance for his office to prepare an official response.

Well low and behold, I got a response. It only took six months. But the letter I received was just as jaw dropping as the first one. **Click the image to read the full letter.**

There are some sentences that are just flat out frustrating to read as a strong supporter of local craft beer, and I'm sure the Minister would have a different stance if speaking directly with the brewers themselves. Here are some of those lines.
I would also note that Ontarians still enjoy the lowest prices for beer across Canada
Seriously? Where did his office get that information from? I can understand their positioning based on the price of imports brought into the LCBO, but you can drive over to Quebec and pay significantly less for beer, I thought everyone knew that. You can buy certain beers cheaper in Alberta than you can in Ontario, at privately run liquor establishments. You can purchase a six pack of Big Rock Grasshopper in Manitoba for $9.69, yet the TBS sells it for $12.55. I really have to scratch my head with that sentence.
Ontario's system also provides fair access to suppliers. The Beer Store is open to any brewer that wishes to list a product with them.
Do I really need to post my thoughts on these two sentences? Fair access to suppliers? Sure, if they can afford it. Talk to most craft brewers in this province and they'll say that they all wish they could be in the Beer Store, they just can't afford it. Molson-Coors, AB/InBev, and Sapporo dictate prices to the small breweries and only then, if those prices are met, can the small players have fair access. And even if they get listed at their preferred stores, how hard it must be to compete with the Beer Store owners with all their splashy floor displays, and top ten boards, and weekly discounts and package prices. Fair access?

Together, there are over 1200 points of sale for at-home beverage alcohol consumption.
This was really the point of my original letter. Yes, there are 1200 or so locations to purchase beer for take home in this province, but break em' up into the LCBO and the Beer Store and you get two players - same point of sale in each city, town, village... And each location does not represent what the beer drinker wishes for. Ask those living in the Ottawa area if they're satisfied with their local LCBO or Beer Store offerings compared to beer drinkers here in Toronto. I know the answer, you know the answer, but here we are, still stuck in the same argument, with the same people.

My 2nd letter (not the original) questioned why this province grants licences to the Wine Rack stores to open in brand new grocery outlets, or in developing neighbourhoods (a new one opened on Queen East a couple months back), and the question was never answered. It wasn't even touched on. I talked to one politician after sending the letters and I was told that all those wine retail stores have been granted a 'grandfather' status - if one closes, another can open. I don't know where they're all coming from, or closing for that matter, but I'm seeing more and more of them spring up. The question of why there can't be stores like this focusing strictly on selling local craft beer, or imports, was completely ignored.

The socially responsible line came up again and I'm not even going to get into that. I don't care how many people the LCBO challenged, it's just a button they push on their tills. I know, I've done it. Any retail outlet could do that, and refuse service, so it's a moot point to me.

Anyways, we'll keep trying to obtain answers. I'll keep writing letters and submitting FOI's, and one day, we may just notice a change.

What's your take on the letter? Leave some comments for me to forward along in my response to the Minister.


Lager Bore said...

Can you say "form letter?"

I like the bit about "so long as they maintain a certain level of sales," or some such. So, not only does InBev Coors et al. charge their competitors to stock their products, but they insist on a certain sales figure to keep them there. This seems a little weird to say the least.

ruserious said...

OMG.... I sent Dalton McGuinty an email with different questions and got the EXACT same response!! If I was only at my home computer I could copy and paste the email reply they sent me and it would be exactly the same as yours.

The focus of my original letter was on how his government enforcement of a foreign owned monopoly took billions of dollars away from the Ontario economy and only represented a barrier to competition and free enterprise. Then I got the exact same: Social Responsibility & Lots of places to buy wine response. I replied asking them how exactly it is convenient for someone in Kenora to drive to Creemore Springs if they want to buy a case of beer and not use The Beer Store (since the only other place to buy a case of Creemore Springs in Ontario is from the brewery), or how can The Beer Store & LCBO claim they prevent underage drinking when 60% of teenagers report binge drinking every year. What a suprise - I never received a reply. Funny how even a letter reply you got from a different department can contain the same copy and paste information.

Not only does his party refuse to answer our questions and cut and paste the same reply every time, but they continually send us a pack of lies as well!

The only good news for Ontario is that if Hillier leads the PC Party then he has promised to allow competitors to the Beer Store. Go PC Party go!!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the beer retailing situation in ON is worse than BC, but not by much, perhaps. Would be interested in doing a comparison.

Troy Burtch said...

Lager Bore - I can't understand it either. It seems no research was put into the letter.

ruserious - Crazy! All I can say is to keep writing and hopefully one day we'll receive a response that has something in it we can relate to.

bcbrews -Hey Rick. It would be interesting in doing a comparison. At least BC can operate private stores where niche beers can be sold. If Halifax can support three, I think Ontario could do the same.

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