Thursday, December 06, 2007

How You Get Beer Into the LCBO

I promised earlier, so now I’ll deliver more on the process involved in getting beer on the shelves at the LCBO. There really are a lot of steps, particularly when you consider that Beau’s has already gone through the process of getting LugTread approved for sale in Ontario, both at our retail store, as well as to licensees. It would take far too long for one blog entry (both for me to write and you to read), so I’ll break it into sections.

Just before I start to outline the process, I want to quickly speak about the people who work at the LCBO — they are great. The people working the system understand the system and they have been helpful in getting my beer through it. I get calls returned the same day; when I ask a stupid question, I get a good answer; and, knock on wood, so far everyone has been cheerful too, which makes the phone calls and emails much nicer to deal with. But back to the process…

Step 1 The Meeting: A meeting with LCBO category management is a precondition to submitting a new product, and it takes a few weeks just to get the meeting scheduled. I had a very funny experience waiting for my appointment in a t-shirt and jeans sitting next to some spirit and wine execs discussing strategies for their presentations. One Schmirnoff guy in a suit to another: “So, if you’re comfortable leading her through the deck, I’ll just jump in from time to time with my comments.” (Obviously the other guy did all the work and is the only one of the two who actually knows what is in the deck.)

At the meeting I went over our plans to launch, a bit of a history of our brewery, what we hope to achieve, etc. I told them where we were in terms of being able to supply the LCBO, and I got to proceed to the next step (NISS—see below).

Something I disliked was that when I explained my plans to launch with a really fancy package in single-serve format, and then follow up with a “convenience package” (think 6-pack), I was told in no uncertain terms that I would not be allowed to have two package formats for the same brand. They may be right and no one store would want to carry both, but I believe that there are some stores that would cater more to the single-serve customers (looking for something nice to bring to dinner) and some that would do better with a convenience package (heading out to the cottage), and surely some would benefit from having both. At any rate, that is all in the future anyway and right now I’m still working on getting the first one in.

Step 2 NISS: NISS is a pain in the ass. I think it means New Item Submission System, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now, so don’t take my word for that. Anyway, it’s an online form that you have to fill out that has every imaginable question you could think up about the product. Grams of sugar per litre, number of pallets to a skid, number of skids to a container load, weight of the cap (seriously, the weight of the cap!) and it just goes on and on and on.

I totally understand the need for a lot of this info when the product is coming in by the boatload from Eastern Europe and distributed in bulk through the LCBO distribution system, but when we are self-delivering boxes of twelve to *maybe* 10 stores in the Ottawa area, it just seems so pointless (to me at least). Luckily, this is one of the areas where LCBO staff shined through for me. A call to my product flow administrator (cool title, hey?) helped me through this:

Me: Uh, how do I find out sugar per litre?
Product Flow Admin: Most breweries just type in “0”.
Me: I don’t know how many pallets I could fit into a container, and I don’t think this will really come up.
Product Flow Admin: Just type in “1” and I’ll make sure it goes through.

Step 3 The Taste Test: You read that right, the taste test. This is one of the parts I’m happy is part of the system, but I’d like to know more about how it works. I don’t want to pick on any one brand of beer in the system, but there are some low-cost 6-packs in cans that somehow passed this test and I shudder when I think about that. More from an interested party perspective, I’d like to get feedback on the results of this test and I’d like to know how this test changes how the product is treated in the system.

OK, so I’m at step three and I’m already way too long for a blog. (Congrats for making it this far.) I’ll continue the saga again later, right now I have to go keg some beer that will be going out to customers later today.

Cheers, Steve

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