Barley Mowat 

Wine in Grocery Stores

with 7 comments

The government went and made it official: Grocery stores will be able to sell liquor as of April 1, 2015. This latest announcement comes as part of a slew of changes around wholesale pricing and government store restriction-loosening, and was met with about a 50/50 split reaction of “wee! booze while you shop” and appropriately skeptical hate-screaming over how impractical the imposed restrictions will make this.

To recap, even though the title of the presser might say “Liquor in grocery stores a reality” the nitty gritty details previously spelt out paint a picture of a red tape nightmare that will likely prevent anything along those lines. Here are the specifics:

  1. No new Licensee Retail Store licences will be created; grocery stores must purchase an existing license and move it. Despite a growing population and local liquor industry, the government has elected to keep the hard cap on retail licenses because… uh… the children, I guess? New licenses for the “Wine Store” license type though, will absolutely be issued as part of this.
  2. The old 5km restriction on how far you could move a license is gone. This has raise fears of all the grocery stores in cities like Vancouver draining liquor outlets from the hinterlands. I will show you below why that won’t be the case.
  3. Grocery stores must be at least 10,000 square feet in size to apply. This basically rules out your local produce store from getting in on the action, because selling liquor is a Big Retailer Game only.
  4. Liquor and beer must be sold via a store-within-a-store model, with separate checkouts, staff and security. There are several government and private stores already immediately beside the grocery store, so really this just prevents you from having to go outside. Also, note that I didn’t say “wine” there. More on that below.
  5. And the big one: grocery stores wishing to sell liquor must be a minimum of 1 kilometre from other, existing, Licensee Retail Stores (private liquor stores) or Government Liquor Stores. Again, note the curious absence of BC Wine Stores in that exclusion. It almost seems like they’re going somewhere with this, doesn’t it?

So, if I sign here, I get liquor in grocery stores? Sweet, you can’t possible twist THIS around on me!

Rather infamously, all this information was summarized by the Vancouver Sun in an article a few months ago, pointing out that these rules effectively ruled out booze in grocery stores for every sufficiently large store in the City of Vancouver except two: the Choices Market on W 57th and another Choices Market on W 16th. Curiously, the W 16th location is actually about 960 metres from the Kitsilano Liquor Store, but perhaps the government is rounding up.

Also curious is the fact that the Kitsilano Liquor Store is not the closest booze outlet to the W16th Choices. Nope, at just over 700 metres distant is the Broadway International Wine Shop. However, being a Wine Shop (and not a Licensee Retail Store) they are excluded from the 1 kilometre rule. Now isn’t that interesting? It gets even more interesting when you consider that wine (specifically BC VQA wine) will be exempt from the store-within-a-store restriction above as well.

With all this info, we are beginning to develop a much better picture of how this whole “booze in grocery” stores thing will go down. On April 1st, grocery stores will be faced with two prospects.

Prospect 1: Buy all the LRS licenses within one KM of your store. This could be as high as 5 or 6 (using the Whole Foods at 8th and Cambie as an example), and the going rate for such things is high six digits each and will only go up dramatically once you start buying them all. Then, spend millions of dollars renovating your store to effectively build a liquor store, buy new point of sale and inventory systems, and then hire and train up new employees to use them. When this is done, Bob’s Discount Grocery not only has an attached liquor store, but Bob also has several spare licenses he can use out in his rural stores to ensure a consistent brand experience for consumers. All Bob’s Stores have liquor. Safeway doesn’t.

Suck it, Safeway.

Prospect 1 is the exact opposite of what the fear mongers are throwing around. Instead of rural BC being drained of licences to put liquor in every Vancouver store, the 1km rule effectively means that Vancouver will be drained of licenses to populate rural grocery stores with grog. Don’t despair, though, as the costs of doing this for even one store are so astronomical so as to be fiscal suicide.

However, if one store does take the plunge, it’s game on. As expensive as licensing that Safeway at Commercial and Broadway will be, the cost of not licensing with be much, much higher when the Whole Foods down the street IS licensed and there aren’t any liquor stores anywhere near by because freaking Whole Paycheque bought them all and moved them to the strip malls ringing Kelowna.

Effectively, as of April 1st every grocery store chain with an interest in Vancouver will be engaged in a corporate Mexican Standoff–all assuring us that they won’t take the plunge while making secret plans to launch an all-out LRS buying blitz in a heartbeat if the competition moves first. It’s sorta like Mutually Assured Destruction, only way worse than nuclear war because this one is screwing with our beer.

After that nightmare scenario, Prospect 2 will seem downright sane. Prospect 2 is an elaboration on that whole, odd, wine exemption. Instead of buying those expensive LRS licenses with their screwed up store-within-a-store and 1km exemption rules, Bob’s could just focus on BC VQA wine and snap up a few of the 54 Wine Store licenses scattered around BC, or simply apply for a new one from the government for a small fee (since the years’ long license freeze seems to be over for Wine Stores).

Grab, say, one license per store and then relocate them into your local Bob’s. No 1km exclusion rule, and no 5km relocation limit to worry about. Next, Bob goes out and buys some BC VQA wine, and puts it on the shelf right next to the cereal, because who doesn’t like some Pinot Cheerio? No new renovations, no new systems, no new staff. Bob can sell that grog like it’s peanut butter, so long as it’s BC VQA wine. No other liquor can be sold this way.

I think it’s pretty clear which of these two scenarios will play out. The laws are so heavily skewed towards making ready access to BC VQA wine cheap and easy (for the retailer; BC VQA at a grocery store will be shockingly expensive for the consumer), while making arguably less-ready access to beer, spirits and non-BC VQA wine that I’m not even mad. Nope, I’m impressed. The BC VQA lobby strikes again, twisting BC liquor laws even further in their favour. Us beer folk, we’re fucking amateurs in comparison.

Despite having brewery and distillery and importer representatives included in the consultation process, the resulting legislation is a giant Fuck You to anyone who isn’t a BC VQA Vineyard. So thanks for that, BC Liquor Control and Licensing Board, way to take an overwhelming mandate for what should have been a relatively simple thing to implement (better access to booze), and turn it around into a massive pay out to your lobbying buddies.

Written by chuck

November 20th, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Beer and You

7 Responses to 'Wine in Grocery Stores'

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  1. I love the blog but the Safeway Venn Diagram is not cool. Can we please not use people’s disabilities to mock others?


    20 Nov 14 at 13:11

  2. You don’t need to publish this comment but I just wanted to let you know that as a parent of a kid with a disability I find your Safeway hiring chart really offensive. I hope businesses will continue to hire people with disabilities even if it makes some people uncomfortable or their consumer experience a little less efficient. Disabled people can contribute to society in many ways and jokes like the graphic you posted can keep people from thinking that they can do that. I really enjoy your blog and tweets and I sense that you’re a an intelligent and kind person who didn’t mean to offend so I just thought I would let you know. Thanks.

    Ian Patton

    20 Nov 14 at 13:17

  3. Sometimes I grab random images w/o paying too much attention to the info (honestly the random capitalization was the thing that jumped out at me most). This is a case of that, and I admit I screwed up. Sorry, guys,

    Offensive pic removed so we can focus on how much the VQA lobby and government suck.


    20 Nov 14 at 13:23

  4. The irony of the April 1st launch is not lost one me here.

  5. I have almost given up on British Columbia. Nothing will ever change the stupidity of this government.


    20 Nov 14 at 18:02

  6. This is going to be fun.

    Chuck, I’ll send you an e-mail on this eventually, but I’m CERTAIN that booze prices will now go up at both the government and LRS level.

    Still, no one knows exactly what the fuck is going on.


    21 Nov 14 at 11:05

  7. @Ben — well, of course they are.

    While they’re promising a level playing field, you know they aren’t going to take the highest discount and broadly apply that.

    Also, note that the handy graphic explaining unfair discounts here:

    Doesn’t tell you what the new, fair discounts will be. Odds they won’t be as good as they are today.

    So, take a reduction in the discount, and then slap on two important additional costs and the prices can’t help but go up. Those two costs are:

    1/ For govt stores: refrigeration, more employees (open late and Sunday), fancier displays
    2/ For private stores: increased competition from the govt stores


    21 Nov 14 at 11:13

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