Beer Goggles For Everyone!

The Brewers Association of Canada would like you to believe that increasing competition in Ontario would lead to higher prices. Despite everything you’ve been taught to the contrary, this group – whose Board of Directors is mostly drawn from the top people at Canada’s big brewers – is going out of its way to steer your opinion against common sense.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Would the owners of The Beer Store and their cohorts purposely mislead me?” I was shocked too! But then I read the results of an Ipsos Reid survey commissioned by BAC, which said beer drinkers in Quebec, Alberta and B.C. – provinces where it’s a lot more convenient to get the good stuff – pay significantly more than we do.

I touched on this subject a couple weeks ago, suggesting “those stats that show Albertans pay more for booze aren’t supported by shopping around.” Then, lo and behold, Ipsos Reid goes and publishes a report that apparently contradicts me.

Now I’m just one dude, sitting on a barstool somewhere with a laptop. I don’t have the vast resources of a “market research company ranking third worldwide among research firms.” Obviously I screwed up, right? The only responsible thing for me to do is retrace my steps to see where the mistakes happened.

So this weekend I did just that. I visited the websites of the four Alberta grocery stores I referenced in my earlier blog post and recorded the prices for every beer that was also available in Ontario, then checked it against what the LCBO and Beer Store advertised.

Price Comparison
Price Comparison – Alberta vs. Ontario

Imagine my horror when, after more than an hour of price-checking, I still couldn’t find my mistake. Ipsos told me Alberta’s prices are 40-47% more than Ontario’s. That’s a huge difference. Yet of the nine beers advertised, six actually rang up at a lower price in Alberta, and the other three were only slightly more expensive. Even more startling: four of the six beers advertised at a lower price in Alberta are produced by MolsonCoors (Canadian, Coors Light) or Labatt (Budweiser, Kokanee)!

Holy Hannah, was I confused. Molson closed its only Alberta plant in 2007, so why can someone in the shadow of that Edmonton fortress (which operated for close to a century, until striking workers were told to find other jobs) get 24 cans for $33.99 when I would have to pay $40.95 in Toronto… where’s it’s brewed! I mean, just because MolsonCoors also produces Calgary Beer (in Vancouver), why should Albertans get preferential pricing?

Maybe I wasn’t understanding the part in the Ipsos Reid release where they claim “… a majority of Ontarians may be harbouring important misconceptions… ” about beer prices in a privatized system. I would have thought most of my neighbours could grasp the difference between average and comparative pricing, you know, if given the facts.

Further along in their newser, the country’s largest market and opinion research firm points out some other misconceptions Ontarians might have. Apparently 34% of Ontarians think that beer selection would decrease in a private system. Only 24% feel it would increase. Most Ontarians polled also think that instances of drinking and driving would increase if liquor was more widely available. Alberta’s experience with privatization however, saw a massive increase in selection and a dramatic drop in casualty collisions where alcohol was a factor. Put beer closer to where they live and drinkers don’t have to go as far to get it. They might not have to drive at all.

I guess the lesson in all this is that with enough money you can get the biggest polling firm in Canada to frame the debate whichever way you want. When you don’t get a response you like, you claim “Ontarians may be harbouring important misconceptions.” When the answer fits with the way you want people to think, you share it with the media even if you know it to be poorly informed.

Why do Albertan’s pay a higher average price than Ontarians? It’s not because of privatization, as they would like to you believe, but because there is only one warehousing company to handle all the non- Molson, Labatt, Sleeman and Big Rock beers that come and go through the entire province. If Calgary’s Wildrose Brewery wants to send a keg two hours south to Lethbridge, they first have to ship it three hours north. If Austria’s Stiegl wants to be served in Fort McMurray, it has to spend some time poking around the provincial capital first. One importer I spoke to told me he pays $13.00 for each keg he brings into Ontario (which has several distribution points). In Alberta, through Connect Logistics, he pays $42.00. That’s a statistic, not a rigged opinion.

The most accurate piece of information you can take from the Ipsos Reid survey is what they didn’t put into words: Canada’s biggest brewers are so concerned with losing market share, they’ve recruited the largest market research firm in the country to prevent you from learning the facts.

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2 thoughts on “Beer Goggles For Everyone!”

  1. Thanks,

    Adds a little more information to the debate. LCBO handles distribution and I guess that now has to be taken into account when we talk about a privatized system. Maybe we are talking about privatizing sales rather than the whole thing. It is important to remember that LCBO has more than just sales (licensing, distribution and testing come to mind).

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