Beer availability in Ontario grocery stores

Weighing the pros and cons

A future where beer is available at the grocery store is finally here.

Consumers will now be able to buy beer at 450 grocery stores in Ontario. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced this past Wednesday that grocery stores with 10,000 square feet of retail space will lend itself to selling six-packs. There will be a cap of 279 six-packs per day for each retail location.

This will benefit local craft breweries as the government will mandate that microbreweries have 20 per cent of shelf space.

For London, home to three well known craft beer breweries (Forked River, Milo’s Craft Beer Emporium and Toboggan), this is big news. But whether it will be a positive change remains to be seen.

Andrew Peters is the head brewer and co-founder of Forked River Brewing Company and has been working in the industry for three years. He stated that Premiere Wynne’s policy is allowing for another avenue of convenience for the customer.

“Since the beers available are regulated by the LCBO, it is likely that they are still going to be only products that are available in the LCBO system at large. We are cautiously optimistic that this will help our business, but are unclear as to how it will work in practice,” Peters said.

In contrast, for Recreation and Leisure Fanshawe alumnus, London beer blogger, bartender and chef Mike Jones remarked that, “this is a great step forward.”

“Ontario is finally catching up with the other provinces. Hopefully this is a step toward the abolishment of the privatization, although it’s unlikely,” Jones said.

In other provinces beer is available for purchase at gas station, grocery stores and more. Jones said the monopoly that the Beer Store and LCBO has the province makes it harder for consumers.

Peters’ said that while this is a huge shift for the province, Ontario craft brewers may not benefit from this entirely.

“Anything that might help to expand our availability is a positive, but the question remains as to whether or not this will actually help Ontario craft breweries. They say that 20 per cent of shelf space will be dedicated to the ‘small brewer’s. ‘Small brewers’ is defined as less than 40 million litres of beer produced worldwide. That’s an astronomically huge amount of beer to still be considered ‘small’.”

Peters said that 40 million litres is more than 300 times what the brewery hopes to produce this year. He is concerned that they might be “shut out by the ‘small’ guys”.

“The market for craft beer is growing every year, but we, as small, local, producers need a fair playing field. We are the driving force for jobs and growth in the industry and the government should focus on fostering our growth,” said Peters. Will this change be a win for small business like us, a win for the big guys or a win for Wynne?”

But both Jones and Peters embrace Wynne’s announcement of a new deal.

“Regardless, we welcome bold reform in this area of legislationit’s far overdue,” Peters said.

“I, for one, am very excited about this,” concluded Jones.

The Beer Store will be the only place shoppers can buy 24-packs, but 12-packs will be available in a few LCBO locations.

Six-packs will soon be available in 450 Ontario grocery stores, which will help local craft breweries as the government will mandate that microbreweries have 20 per cent of shelf space.