Beer glasses clinked in celebration in the province of Ontario upon the announcement that the provincial government will not renew the Master Framework Agreement allowing for the expansion of beer and wine sales into convenience stores.
Premier Doug Ford during a press conference says that the announcement that will see the sale of beer, wine, cider and ready-to-drink cocktails in convenience stores, big box stores and all grocery stores in Ontario by 2026 is one of the biggest changes in alcohol sales in the history of the province and gives the citizens of the province more choice and convenience.
"We've got to start treating people like adults here in the province. Folks, we all have busy lives, so just imagine on a Friday night in December, instead of being stuck in a long lineup at the LCBO, you'll be able to pop into your local convenience store before heading out to the holiday party."
The much-anticipated announcement fulfills a campaign promise made during the 2018 election campaign where Premier Ford promised to get beer and wine into convenience stores in the province. His government did pass legislation allowing 450 grocery stores across the province to sell beer and wine, with The Beer Store retaining exclusive rights to sell 12- and 24-packs of beer.
With this announcement, starting no later than January 1, 2026, the provincial government will allow for the sale of beer, wine, cider, coolers, seltzers and other low-alcohol read-to-drink beverages in local convenience stores, a wider range of grocery stores and big box stores.
According to a release by the government, the further opening of alcohol sales in the province will introduce up to 8,500 new stores being able to sell beer and wine.
Spirits like vodka, gin and whisky will continue to be sold at the LCBO.
"We made a promise to the people of Ontario to deliver more choice and convenience,” adds Premier Ford. “Today, we’re delivering on that promise. There’s no reason why Ontario consumers shouldn’t enjoy the same convenient shopping experience as Canadians in every other province when buying some wine for their holiday party or a case of beer or seltzers on their way to the cottage.”
"Today’s announcement is welcome news for Ontario’s convenience stores,” says Anne Kothawala, president and CEO, Convenience Industry Council of Canada. “Removing antiquated restrictions on the sale of beer, wine, coolers and ready-to-drink beverages will create new revenue streams for our local businesses and meet customer demands in an increasingly competitive marketplace. This is an important step, and we are committed to working with the government on the specific details on a responsible and successful transition of these new products into our stores."
As a first step in the transition to this new retail marketplace, the government has informed Brewers Retail Inc. (The Beer Store) that the MFA, signed and extended for ten years by the previous government in 2015 and limited the number of retail stores that could be authorized to sell alcohol, will not be renewed after it expires on December 31, 2025. The Beer Store and LCBO will continue their retail operations in Ontario’s new marketplace.
“The people of Ontario will soon have more choice and convenience on where they can buy alcohol,” adds Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance. “As we move towards implementing this expansion, our government will be taking a responsible, measured approach so we can ensure our transition to a new marketplace is smooth, safe and stable.”
As part of the announcement, the provincial government says it will introduce competitive pricing to all private retailers to promote competition and a better deal for consumers. LCBO retail stores will maintain consistent pricing across the province to help ensure consumers do not pay more based on where they live, including in rural and northern Ontario. As they do in other provinces, retailers will have the option to set promotional prices consistent with relevant regulations. Minimum pricing policies will remain in effect to preserve standards for responsible consumption.
Ontario is removing restrictions and exclusivities on pack sizes. Consumers will be able to purchase any pack size, including 12-packs, 24-packs or even 30-packs as in Quebec of beer, cider and ready-to-drink alcohol beverages at convenience, grocery and big box stores, in addition to the LCBO and The Beer Store.
The Beer Store has agreed to continue to run the provincewide recycling program for alcoholic beverage containers until at least 2031 as part of a transition period in the new marketplace. The government will consult with retailers and industry stakeholders on the future of recycling and deposit return to ensure this important feature is maintained beyond 2031.
"We are pleased to see the government move to end the Master Framework Agreement with The Beer Store,” adds Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada. “By ending the MFA, Premier Ford is moving Ontario forward and opening up choices for consumers; more grocery stores will soon sell more alcohol options in all formats and sizes, 12-packs, 24-packs, and even larger formats."
Kenny Shim, president of Ontario Convenience Store Association and the Ontario Korean Businessmen's Association told CSNC that his members were thrilled with the announcement as it will help bring “more consumers coming into our stores. We have been petitioning for beer and alcohol sales at our stores for the last 25 years.”
Shim adds that the announcement is just the first step. Now the government and his members and others will need to sit down to work out the rules that convenience stores will operate under for the sale of beer and alcohol, but also to make sure there is a level playing field between larger national c-store operations and independent operators so that everyone take be successful going forward.
Ontario will also provide a range of transitional and time-limited supports to Ontario-based producers to help with the transition to a more open marketplace, including:
- Extending dedicated shelf space requirements across all new retailers for craft producers to provide opportunities for small producers to compete
- Immediately enhancing the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Wine Support Program beginning in 2024-25 for up to five years to 2028-29 to support the growth and sale of Ontario-grown VQA wines
- Extending the Wine Marketing Fund and the Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support Program for up to five years
- Supporting local economic development by directing the LCBO to promote and prioritize Ontario-made products, producers and workers by providing more and enhanced programs, promotions and strategies to help local producers grow Ontario product sales
- Establishing a wine and grape industry sector table between government and industry partners
Introducing legislation that will, if passed, eliminate the 6.1% wine basic tax at on-site winery retail stores, making Ontario’s tax regime competitive with other provinces, including British Columbia
The LCBO will be the exclusive wholesaler for all retail, bars and restaurants selling alcohol and will offer consumers an extensive array of choices, including domestic and imported products. This structure will continue to offer the benefits of the LCBO’s world-leading purchasing power and economies of scale and ensures sector stability, including maintaining an important employment footprint across Ontario and a significant revenue stream for government so that it can continue to invest in critical frontline services like health care and education. The province is proud of its LCBO workforce and will continue to support them through this transition.
The LCBO will continue to work with producers and retailers to distribute wine and spirits in an expanded marketplace, including retail stores, bars and restaurants. The Beer Store has agreed to maintain its primary role in the distribution of beer to retailers, bars and restaurants until at least 2031 as part of the transition period, helping to provide stability to the sector and frontline workers. The province will also permit more flexible distribution models for small producers.
The government says it will continue to meet and consult with industry partners, local beverage alcohol producers and other stakeholders on additional areas of the future marketplace including licensing, wholesale pricing and taxes, mark-ups and fees. The province will also conduct a broader review of taxes and fees on beer, wine and alcoholic beverages with the aim of promoting a more competitive marketplace for Ontario-based producers and consumers.
With files from The Canadian Press