Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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The Beer Store and the hundred million dollar question

 

The Beer Store is a private corporation owned by three of the world’s largest brewing companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, Molson-Coors, and Sapporo.

This is a fact about which, it seemed, people used to care.

That time, to be exact, was 2013. Ragey beer writing had something of a moment and bloggers and traditional journalists alike seemed to set their collective sights on the worst kept secret in beer: The Beer Store is the only third party allowed to open privately owned retail beer stores in Ontario.  It was a time when Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star was largely leading the non-beer-nerd charge and felt emboldened enough to write Toronto Star-ific ledes like the delicious: “The Beer Store is Ontario’s longest-running public disgrace and economic blight.” Oh Marty.

One of the main beefs the long lost people of 2013 seemed to have, in addition to anger about the fact that three of the biggest beer companies in the world were handed a virtual monopoly on retail beer sales in the province, was that the shopping experience at these stores really sucked. Indeed, the Beer Store, with its Ice Cold Express, list of top ten sellers, and hidden inventory, seems uniquely designed to continue allowing the big brewers who own the place to continue to sell more of their own product because there really isn’t any option for browsing. You can’t chuck an empty OV bottle at a stack of articles about the Beer Store without hitting a reference to the archaic conveyor belt system, the mysterious wall of labels, or the general communist-era vibes of Ontario’s beer retailer of choice.

And so, when the public sentiment culminated in a fine frothy rage that actually emboldened the province to do something about our retail beer fiasco, it included stipulations that The Beer Store would need to improve its customer experience. In 2015 the province released the “Master Framework Agreement” between the entities that own the Beer Store and the province and, in addition to the much-publicized introduction of beer in grocery stores, that agreement laid out details for The Beer Store updating their facilities; specifically, Section 6.1 of the 2015 framework agreement, entitled “Customer Experience” dictates that “The Corporation shall improve the customer experience across its retail network, including by converting stores to more modern retailing formats such as self-serve, open concept formats, and shall ensure that all newly built stores shall have self-serve, open concept formats.” They even put a specific number of the expense of upgrades: “The Corporation shall spend at least $100,000,000 from 2015 through 2018 on capital expenditures (not less than $80,000,000 of which shall be in respect of retail stores), which may be funded through the sale of existing assets of the Corporation.”

Well, a cursory glance at the ol’ calendar suggests that, hey, it’s been 2018 for a few months now. Continue reading


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Changes to Ontario’s beer: The good, the bad, and the WTF

goodbadwtf

In case you are unaware–or you’re like me and were drinking copious amounts of great American craft beer at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in Portland when it happened–last week the province announced some proposed changes to the way beer is sold in Ontario.

Mostly contained in an announcement wherein Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed that we’d be seeing beer sold in grocery stores (if the Liberal budget is passed, which it will since they have a majority), the full details of the proposed changes were outlined in the report Striking the Right Balance: Modernizing Beer Retailing and Distribution in Ontario

Given my Portland sojourn, I’m admittedly a little late to the party analyzing the impact of these possible changes, but better late than never.

If you’re interested, Canadian Beer News has a great round up of the various reactions to the report in the major dailies and some blogs.  I recommend Dan Grant‘s post for NOW Magazine for some reaction from brewers and Jordan St. John published an interesting post in which he takes a look at how we got here (and gets a terrific visit from a trolling Beer Store employee in the comments section for his efforts!)

In considering the report and its impact, I opted to approach the issue as I do most other things: I cracked a beer and first read what every one else was saying–but then I decided to take a critical look at each of the proposed major changes individually.

Here’s why I think the proposed changes are good, why they might be bad, and why they have me asking “wtf?” Continue reading