15 December 2015

Grocery Stores and Beer. A view from the Drunk Polkaroo.

I think this is where the beer is.
Today, December 15th, 2015, is a "momentous" day for Ontario beer drinkers as major retailers like Loblaws will begin selling 6 packs and single cans. I put that in quotes because there seems to be a large segment of the beer drinking population that is still angry about our lack of choice in where we purchase our brews. It is understandable to be a little cynical about the whole program; the Beer store still has its monopoly for the most part and prices aren't going to come crashing down due to more "competition". Regulation of what the minimum cost of beer or spirits is not set by the market, but rather by the Government run LCBO. (Beer and Wine Tax in Ontario)
So looking to find better prices through more availability isn't coming anytime soon.
I think one of the issues for people like myself is convenience. We want to be able to grab a sixer or some cans of our favourite Ontario craft beers in the easiest way possible. Everybody goes grocery shopping at least once a week, so it makes sense to have beer where you shop for food. Having it in convenience stores would be even better, but I really think their selection would lean towards macro beer that sells well and would be most in demand by the general population. The 20% shelf space requirement for local breweries is a good step, the 50% Loblaws has said they will carry is better. But these are businesses and they are in it for the profit. Buy better beer and more will be available I always say.
I work at a major grocery store that is not carrying beer and while I would love to be able to grab my beer right there after my shift ends, I would probably still go the LCBO less than a minute away because they have a much more varied selection right now.  If we could somehow ensure a constant and changing "Wall of Beer" like they do at the Wegman's I visit when I go across the border, I would change my tune. I love that when I go down the States, I can get a Pick Six of any different craft beer for $9.99. Even with our terrible exchange rate right now and the duty, that is still pretty damn good.
The biggest problem is not price for me. I understand that beer in Quebec is cheaper, but also that their income tax rates are much higher than ours here in Ontario. Where the government lowers taxes in one area, they will surely find a way to raise the revenue in another. Sounds pretty simple. My real demand is always going to be choice. Give me access to more of the great beer brewed here in Canada and the world and you have my attention.
Will it ever look like this? Dreams can come true.

 Will this step lead to greater selection? I want to believe it will. Right now that mostly falls to each LCBO and their decisions on what to stock. That in turn is driven by what sells. I go back to my original premise. Demand better beer, buy better beer and the retailers will follow.
Those of us that love to explore all beer has to offer will never be in the majority of the consumers of the malted beverage. For most people, a Coors Light is a beer that does the "thirst quenching" job and helps to get them where they want to go without too much thought. At no point do I think Craft Beer will overtake the Big Boys of beer, but we can make the needle move enough to drive the market in the right direction. It is already happening. The selection in only the last year has improved greatly in my local LCBOs and I hope that means people are making more informed choices.
My own decision to pursue the Perfect Beer has made me much more conscious of what I purchase. I don't buy Molson Canadian because I have had it and it is not for me. My uncle loves it and that is what he has in his home. If I was going to visit him it would save me the trouble of going to the Beer Store after work if I could just grab him a six pack when I was leaving. That is what this whole thing is about for me then. Convenience and accessibility. It was never about more choice, that will only come when we, the beer drinking public, demand it with our wallets.
Keep buying all the best that Craft Breweries have to offer. That is what will bring about true and lasting change. Only when we make our voices heard through what we buy can we expect retailers to listen. Don't give up hope that we can push the envelope on selection. I will continue to believe in a future where my choices expand and grow; With only the imagination of those talented brew masters as the limit to what I can buy.


List of Stores Selling Beer in Ontario

***Just a little note on the end here. After I wrote this I actually went to one of my local Fortino's and picked up a 4 pack of Pompous Ass Ale (which rang through as Canuck) and a can of Boneshaker IPA. I love both of those beers. They also had some Hoptical Illusion, Canuck Pale Ale and Beau's Lug Tread to name a few.  The choices for craft beer were not as diverse as the LCBO, but it was occupying as much shelf space as the macro brews. That is a start. It was a pretty surreal experience to be buying beer at a Canadian grocery store for sure. I actually bought something else because it seemed so weird to just buy beer there. It can only get better from here, right?***
Purchased at an actual grocery store! Mall Road Fortinos.
Yes I bought peanuts as well.
I didn't want to seem like a booze hound.
I am also aware that sounds weird.

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