1) The Beer Store. This is a private, for-profit company, owned by Molson (which is owned by the U.S.’s Miller-Coors) and Labatts (which is owned by Inbev, from Belgium). Okay so Sleemans (owned by Sapporo in Japan) owns something like 1%, but let’s not split hairs. Something ridiculous like 85% of all beer sold in Ontario moves through this juggernaut.
2) The LCBO. This is a government-owned company that focuses on wines and spirits, but does sell beer as well. The LCBO does not sell larger packages than the 6-pack, so customers looking to purchase a case of beer go to the Beer Store.
3) Brewery retail store. Breweries are allowed to sell beer out of their brewery. They are not allowed to open up stores off-site, which is too bad, ‘cause that would be cool.
4) Restaurants and bars. Technically only restaurants can get new liquor licenses in Ontario, which is why you see fewer taverns every year.
So as you can see, options are really limited for a little brewery that wants to sell in the Ottawa-area exclusively. The Beer Store is very expensive to get into. In fact, it would cost us about $20,000 to get listed in 20 stores selling the usual 6-pack, 12-pack and 24-pack. Furthermore, if we don’t meet sales targets, the Beer Store takes back the listing and bans us from selling in that store.
On top of that, the Beer Store is converting more and more stores to a format where you can pick up a case of Molson Canadian or Blue Light real quick and get out the door; OR try to find what you want on a tiny list of beer, then wait in line forever while someone in the back hunts for your beer. I suppose it makes sense — if I was the one who owned the Beer Store, I’d probably try to make it tough for them (Miller-Coors) to sell their beer.
The LCBO is a much better option, but still quite challenging to work with on a small scale. Because they sell all the wine and spirits for the whole province, they have very long lead times and most of their programs expect the supplier to be able to reach the whole province. As an example, the deadline to submit a seasonal beer is 12 months in advance.
On the flip side though, the LCBO is interested in higher-end beer and I’ve had very good experiences working with the beer team and the inside folks there. For my first listing, and because I asked really nicely, they were able to fast-track Beau’s through the process, shaving 4 months off the submission timeline. (The process involved in getting a listing is rather interesting and I’ll write a separate blog about that some time). So finally, the good news is that it is looking likely that Beau’s will be able to sell through the LCBO starting in January. Although we’ll miss you all coming down the brewery to get your fix, it’ll be nice to know people in Ottawa can say, “Let’s go buy some Beau’s,” and not have to gas up and pack a lunch for the ride to VKH.