Coors Light, Budweiser and Molson Canadian aren’t particularly pricey brands of beer—unless you own a bar or restaurant in Ontario. For the province’s tens of thousands of liquor licensees, these premium beer brands come at huge markup.
Take a case of Canadian. For a restaurant or bar, a two-four costs a staggering $44.75, about 30 per cent more than its retail price of $34.95. Labatt Blue, inexplicably, costs almost 50 per cent more than the retail price. This would be strange, but not necessarily fishy, if the markups were consistent across beer brands, but they’re not. With few exceptions, the markups apply exclusively to brands produced by Molson-Coors, AB InBev and Sapporo. Those are the three foreign-owned mega-breweries who own The Beer Store and have a virtual monopoly on beer sales in Ontario.
The issue came to light last month, when the Canadian Restaurants and Foodservices Association raised the price discrepancy to members of Ontario’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. The CFRA is determined to keep raising the issue until they get a satisfactory answer. So far, there’s been no answer at all. “CRFA has never been offered an explanation for why the owners of The Beer Store decided to charge Ontario licensees more than the general public for their products,” says Jamie Rilett, vice president of CFRA Ontario.
For its part, The Beer Store pleads ignorance. “We have absolutely nothing to do with prices,” says president Ted Moroz. Rather, individual brewers set their prices through the LCBO, and The Beer Store is notified of price changes on a week-to-week basis. In fact, Moroz claims that he first realized the discrepancy was so large when the issue was raised by the writer of this article. “I was surprised,” he says. “I didn’t realize the prices were so much different for home consumers.”