Yesterday the Ontario government announced a pilot project to allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores (here is a CBC story on it). Well, sort of. The actual plan is to open 10 LCBO “kiosks” inside select grocery stores. The 2,000 square foot mini-stores will operate separately from the grocery store, purchases will be paid at the kiosk directly, staffed by LCBO staff, and operate regular LCBO hours (usually 10 to 8 or 9) not the grocery store hours.
How exactly is this different than the existing stores adjacent to grocery stores? Well, humble reader, the kiosk will be INSIDE the store, amid the bananas, toilet paper and ice cream, of course., and not simply along the outside wall or joined by a doorway.
I forgive people for yawning at this point.
However, bear with me a moment or two. This decision follows B.C.’s recent, yet still unimplemented, decision to allow grocery liquor sales (see post here), and random musings by a couple of Conservative cabinet ministers in Alberta (post here). It is a further sign that politicians are feeling some pressure and/or space to consider what long was a verboten concept outside Quebec. I increasingly believe that over the next few years alcohol will slowly move into grocery shelves in one fashion or another.
I doubt a Quebec-esque free-for-all or U.S.-style system will be the model. Province’s liquor commissions are powerful entities and unlikely to cede control (and revenue) from liquor sales to grocery chains. Even in Alberta, where retail is already private, an entrenched industry of liquor stores has a vested interest in keeping liquor separate from grocery.
I have said before I hardly see grocery store sales as a panacea for craft beer. The economic logic suggests, just like in liquor stores, the bulk of shelf space will go to corporate beer. However, I can see the argument that liquor in grocery stores is a sign of a mature society. Plus the convenience is obvious.
It is not a hill I am prepared to die on. I am more concerned with creating rules and market space for quality craft beer, which is a much slower process and one that requires intelligent government policy-making. Beer in grocery stores is, for the most part, a populist, easy victory for politicians staring down the barrel of an imminent election.
It won’t be the end of moral society as we know it, but neither will it beckon a new era of enlightenment. It simply shifts around who gets the profits from the sales. However, I promise to keep my eye on what is now officially a trend.