In what can be considered a sliver of renewed hope for Ontario convenience stores, Premier Doug Ford reiterated today a 2018 campaign promise to allow convenience stores to sell beer and wine.
Ford addressed the topic in an unrelated news conference when asked when his government would fulfill the five-year-old promise.
“Our goal is to make sure that there’s beer and wine sold in the big retailers,” he said, naming many of the grocers that are already able to sell beer and wine, then added: “and the convenience stores—we’re going to fulfill that promise.”
It’s been a long wait for the owners of the province’s 8,000 convenience stores, who watched as grocery retailers and (during pandemic lockdowns) restaurants were given the green light to sell beer and wine to consumers.
READ: Convenience industry welcomes plan to end Beer Store deal
Complicating matters, after the initial 2018 promise, the Ontario Government vowed again in the 2019 budget to move ahead with the plan, but met resistance from The Beer Store, which challenged the plan to end the Master Framework Agreement.
“The government cannot extinguish our right to damages as outlined in the Master Framework Agreement,” Beer Store president Ted Moroz said in a 2019 statement. “It is critical to understand that The Beer Store has, in good faith, based on a legally negotiated 10-year operating agreement with the Province of Ontario, invested more than $100 million to modernize its stores and to continue to upgrade the consumer experience.”
However, the previous Liberal government’s 10-year Master Framework Agreement with the Beer Store is set to expire in 2025 and under the terms of the agreement, the province is required to give notice by this fall if they don’t intend to renew it.
“There is more beer being sold at retail than there ever has been, but I have to be aware that there is a contract with The Beer Stores. We're going to be working with them,” Ford said today, adding: “A lot of people are of the misunderstanding that The Beer Stores are owned by the government. They aren't. They're owned by three massive beer companies—foreign may I add—foreign beer companies, and I just don't think that monopoly’s right.”
For more than a decade, the industry long advocated for permission to enable convenience stores in Ontario to sell beer, wine and ready-to-drink products. The urgency increased in the wake of the pandemic, with industry leaders stressing that diversifying product mix is key to ensuring the channel not only survives but thrives. Indeed, beverage alcohol is the second biggest category in terms of sales in Canada, even though it is only allowed in Quebec and parts of Atlantic Canada.
According to the Convenience Industry Council of Canada's State of the Industry Report, beer is the fastest growing and second top selling category in Canada in 2021, with sales data from only one province, Quebec. Total sales were $473 million. While beer is sold in the channel in Quebec, as well as Newfoundland & Labrador, the data analyzed only accounts for sales in Quebec.
READ: Beverage alcohol in c-stores makes dollars and sense
"Giving Ontarians the convenience and choice they want and deserve and retailers the capability to expand their product mix are priorities for CICC," says Jeff Brownlee, VP communications and stakeholder relations for CICC. "We look forward to working with Premier Ford to ensure that beverage alcohol can be purchased at any of the 8,000 c-store retail outlets in the province that choose to sell those products. Such a move would be a win-win scenario that would benefit the provincial government, Ontario consumers while being a game changer for the province’s convenience retailers at the same time."
Dave Bryans, president and CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, says he has been for this for 13 years and was “quite excited to hear Premier Ford's comment that he plans to live up to his commitment to the c-store industry… we have been patient understanding the exclusivity granted by the past government under the MFA agreement.”
Both groups, as well as the Ontario Korean Businessmen’s Association and Free My Booze, in 2021 launched a campaign, “Convenience and choice” reminding the Ontario government why modernizing beverage alcohol laws is so important.
Today, Ford seemed to agree, stating: “At the end of the day, we need to have convenience for the consumer.”