To My Haters At The Beer Store

There are some Beer Store employees that, I’m pretty sure, aren’t too happy with me. I’ve made it a mission to correct the half-truths the BS continues to spread and point out some of the back channels the ownership uses to maintain its hold on the market. I’ve felt the feedback on Twitter and noted the comments on NOW Magazine’s website.

To be clear though – and I want to be crystal clear about this – I have no issue with Beer Store employees. I don’t shop there often, but occasionally I’ll swing by on the way to a friend’s place because, for me, it’s more convenient (read: less inconvenient) than my closest LCBO… if I’m travelling southeast.

On those rare occasions I line up like everyone else, basking in that stale aroma of refrigerants and empties, and wait my turn. It’s dull and it’s deflating, but that’s not the fault of the people who work there.

I can’t recall a Beer Store employee being rude to me. Generally they get my order quickly. Generally they get my order right.

The other day I had the opportunity to chat with the owner of Kensington Brewing Company for another piece I’m working on. Brock Shepherd, as you may know, recently added Fruit Stand Watermelon Wheat to the Beer Store’s inventory. Despite winning the Golden Tap Award (voted on by the public) as the top specialty or seasonal beer in Ontario last year, the LCBO, for whatever reason, felt it wasn’t right for their customers. So at a cost of roughly $15,000, Shepherd bought listings at approximately 40 Beer Store locations from Ottawa to the GTA, and right into cottage country.

He’s not complaining. In fact, he says his dealings with the Beer Store have been excellent. The people he interacts with have been very supportive of craft beer. His product moves more quickly through its system, than the LCBO. It’s the leadership, Shepherd feels, that makes it difficult for the little guys.

They’re also the ones devoting resources to misleading the public when they should be focused on improving their own stores. Ted Moroz, as you likely know, is the President of the Beer Store. I happened to be in Calgary when he spoke to the Toronto Board of Trade in February.

“I checked it yesterday. In a private store in Calgary, 24 bottles of Molson Canadian cost $50.70. In The Beer Store today, it’s 37.95.” - Ted Moroz, February 10, 2014

So he checked with one of the 1,300 private retailers in the province. Good job, Ted.

What if he had called Safeway – one of the largest liquor retailers in the province, where I happened to be that day – and asked them? If he had found Molson Canadian widely available at a lower price (as it often is) would he share that with the B.O.T.?

I don’t have any archived flyers from February, but here’s what I found today at the one place I looked.

Sobey's Liquor, June 4, 2014
Sobey’s Liquor, June 4, 2014

Twenty four cans at the Beer Store are also currently on sale… for $39.95… the same price as their competition at the LCBO. Note that if you shop on Tuesday, Sobey’s will knock off another 10%. Why? Because they have actual competition.

The Beer Store prez also alleged in his speech that Alberta’s move to privatize did not lead to increased selection.

“So again, the facts show that deregulation will not generate any improvement in product selection.” - Ted Moroz, February 10, 2014

“Facts?” Ted? Really? I assume, again, he called one outlet to ask what’s on the shelf, because if he had phoned Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton he would have learned they have more variety in one, easy-to-browse location than the LCBO and Beer Store combined. (You can also pick up the bottles, check date codes and actually read the labels before committing to purchase, just like you should be able to do with anything you put in your body).

As long as the company keeps turning out bullshit I’m going to continue to call them on it. If Ted Moroz really believes more options are bad for the province, he should be dismantling the Beer Store in favour of an LCBO-only environment. You can argue for a free market or a government monopoly, but to suggest the Beer Store is the only competent private retailer is as absurd as it is insulting.

From what I can tell Beer Store employees do a fine job. If we open the system to more competition, so could thousands of other Ontarians.

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9 thoughts on “To My Haters At The Beer Store”

  1. Hi! Beer Store employee/hater here.

    You called Ted out for checking with ONE retailer, and responded by, uh, checking with ONE retailer. Let me save you the time and say that Canadian is a better deal at that point and time at Sobey’s. However, that one page of deals you see at Sobey’s is ALL that is cheaper than Ontario that week. That case of Canadian at RCSS, Safeway, private liquor stores, etc. is most likely the $50.95 Ted stated. Alberta has high prices due to retail markup. A markup that barely exists at TBS. If prices are lower, it’s because that alcoholic product is being sold as a loss-leader because Alberta’s substantially lower taxes allow that wiggle room.

    It’s great that Sherbrooke Liquor has great selection. That’s one place. I, for one, remember driving all over hell’s half acre (and 6 stores of varying sizes from Calgary to Lethbridge) to find ONE beer by a popular microbrewery a province over (Dead Frog). Alberta SUCKS for finding something specific. TBS and LCBO stock (or even if its carried at all) can be easily searched online. Good luck in Alberta I tried to find BUDWEISER as a test with an online beer finder and couldn’t..

  2. Hey Paul, thanks for the spirited commentary… at 4:30 on a Sunday morning (?)

    You’re not the first Beer Store employee that pointed out “Alberta’s substantially lower taxes.” I totally forgot about that!

    Just kidding. I actually researched it (seemed wiser than just simply assuming and posting it as fact).

    Other than for the very smallest producers (under 20,000 HL) taxes are actually lower in Ontario. And even for those littlest of brewers, Alberta charges 20-cents / litre compared to Ontario’s rate between 22.60- and 25.43-cents (depending on whether or not it’s draught) — that works out to be about a penny or two difference per bottle or pint.

    Your beloved Budweiser (sorry, BUDWEISER, as you refer to it) takes a 98-cent hit on each litre in Wild Rose Country, compared to 59.20-cents (draught) or 75.42-cents here in Trilliumville.

    To your point about how I only checked one retailer, you kind of (completely) missed the point. I could explain it to you… in fact I will if you really want me to, but I think if you re-read the article in the light of day you’ll probably figure it out.

    I like that you pointed out Dead Frog. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw that in Ontario. Oh right… I’ve never seen it here. Yet in Alberta I’ve seen plenty of beer from Canada’s East Coast — beer that travelled through Ontario to get there, but had no outlet here.

    Your Alberta beer quest sounds like hell. Although I was born in Ontario and have spent most of my life here, I’ve also lived in Alberta. I’ve never looked for Dead Frog, so I can’t speak to that one, but the insights I do offer are based on much more than a road trip.

    I CAN speak about the time this summer when I searched for Cameron’s Dark 266 (from a popular microbrewery in THIS province) for an event I was doing. It was listed online as being available at The Beer Store about a kilometer away from my home. Inside the store, the 266 name plate was indeed affixed to that awesome TBS menu board. When I tried to order it however, I was told they don’t carry it… like, at all. Apparently they had in the past, but no longer. If your point is that TBS website is easily searchable, I will concede that point. Accurate however? Not when I needed it.

    As for finding Budweiser (sorry, BUDWEISER) online, it’s the craziest thing: the first website I checked this morning was Safeway Liquor and they have it on the front page of this week’s flier! What are the odds? (actually quite good… happens all the time). Since you accused me of being lazy in my earlier research I also checked Sobey’s Liquor. It’s there too. Also front page.

    At both places (and when I say BOTH places, I mean the dozens of very easy-to-find locations all over the province) 24 x 355mL cans are currently $35.99 + tax and deposit. That works out to be $40.19. Your shop sells it for $42.95.

    Co-op Liquor Store’s many locations are selling 16 cans of BUDWEISER for $22.99 ($25.74 all-in). That was also ridiculously easy to find online. Compare that to $25.70 for just 15 cans at TBS, despite the fact it’s brewed in Toronto and actually enjoys substantially lower taxation here.

  3. I was referring to using the Liquor Connect beer search engine, which is the only Alberta search engine I could find. It sucks. A search for “Budweiser” (proper case this time! I wouldn’t want to be condescended to multiple times over it again!) yields a hit on the (assumed) disgusting chelada http://www.liquorconnect.com/Products/Pages/SearchResults.aspx?k=lcproductname%3ABudweiser and even “Bud” doesn’t hit upon the regular strength brand. Searching Sherbrooke Liquors’ website yields no prices, stock levels, or even a lot of their products (by their own admission.) Ontario may not be 100% accurate (or you may encounter staff unaware of the beer you are looking for) but the web search for stock and prices (since they are uniform, and all) are many magnitudes better.

    Of course I could have searched individual stores. That would tell me the six items on sale that week. I liked how I pointed out that only sales prices are lower, and you point to… more sale prices! How much are they when that flyer expires? From my experience, up to 25% more than Ontario. 24 cans of Blue was $50.95 before tax/deposit at the liquor store in Banff, and also the Co-Op in Calgary (just so you don’t blame the former on Banff tourist prices.)

    I guess you had me on the “lower taxes” thing, although a link to where you got your numbers would have been nice (since you are teaching me a lesson and all) so I can accurately argue the facts in the future.

    Also, TBS sells (or sold, I know it was delisted at my store) a Dead Frog mixer pack.

  4. The thing is Paul, Alberta’s system is set up for Albertans. If you lived there you would know where to look. That’s not a dig at you… I wouldn’t expect anyone in Ontario to know this. Liquor Connect searches products handled by Connect Logistics, which is the central warehousing and distribution point for nearly all beer that isn’t Labatt (including Budweiser), Molson, Sleeman or Big Rock (which has its own supply management system).

    From the Liquor Connect FAQ’s:

    2. WHAT TYPES OF PRODUCTS DOES CONNECT LOGISTICS SERVICES HANDLE?
    Connect Logistics Services is the Alberta distributor of wines, liqueurs, spirits (whisky, vodka, rum, gin, etc.), micro-brewed & regionally crafted domestic beer, and imported beer. (The Connect Logistics distribution center does not handle some domestic beers, like Molson and Labatt).

    My reference only to sale items goes back to my criticism of Ted Moroz’s speech to the Board of Trade. From an pro-privatization standpoint, it doesn’t matter if a store is selling Canadian for $50.00 because somewhere else nearby is almost definitely selling it for $35.00. Stores in Alberta compete hard for business. Popular brands are easy to get on the cheap. Uncle Ted tries to leave the impression that beer is so expensive in Alberta… on average it is higher than Ontario, but average prices mean nothing to a consumer that only cares about deals.

    For me, I care more about selection and customer service. In Alberta, competition leads to far more selection (another Beer Store lie) and some pretty stellar beer events; not just tastings, but occasions where education and appreciation is paramount. In Ontario’s this-one-or-that-one market we don’t get that. We get take-it-or-leave-it.

    I would have happily shared the taxation rates if I could include graphics in comments. But here are some links:

    Alberta
    http://aglc.ca/pdf/quickfacts/markup_rates_schedule.pdf
    Ontario
    http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/tax/bwt/

    If you need Ontario Finance definitions of “Microbrewer” I have that too. Let me know

    You’re right that Dead Frog’s Mixed Pack does seem to be in select Beer Store locations. Again, it’s not something I’ve ever thought to look for. I can’t say positively, but I bet if I still lived in Alberta and cared enough about it I would have no trouble tracking some down. But… maybe not. Who knows?

    If you found the tone of my last message condescending it’s because you self-identified as a “hater” right off the top. I’m not inclined to shy away from challenges because I research the shit out of things. I’d prefer to keep it civil though, since it’s obviously an important topic to us both.

    1. Thanks for the links. I found that exact same page for Alberta, but assumed it was the AGLC wholesale markup. Are the commodity taxes/beer taxes included in that?

  5. My tone was a bit angry too. I feel like on this issue that it’s very easy to be a dick initially and hold your ground until you find middle ground if you’re arguing with a reasonable person. 🙂

  6. If beer is unaffordable in Alberta we are justifiied in the price in Ontario? Also I don’t give a crap about micro breweries. Beer is not for sipping. Give me high volume beer since I drink in high volumes.

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