TORONTO – Ontario is taking the next step to modernize the way alcohol is sold, announcing plans to allow the sale of wine in up to 300 grocery stores, starting with about 70 supermarkets by this fall.
Premier Kathleen Wynne says of those initial 70 licences for grocery stores, half will be restricted to selling only Ontario VQA wines for the first three years, while the rest can sell Canadian and international wines as well.
Wynne visited a Toronto supermarket this morning to announce that up to 150 grocery stores will eventually get new licences to sell wine.
And she said another 150 existing wine stores now located just outside a grocery store checkout will be permitted to move inside the store and share the checkout.
The expansion of wine sales follows last year’s decision by the Liberal government to allow some grocery stores to sell six packs of beer and to let the LCBO sell 12-packs in addition to the six-packs it had been retailing.
Wynne also announced that cider can be sold in any grocery store that sells beer, and that the program allowing Vintners Quality Alliance wines to be sold at farmers’ markets will expand to include fruit wines and craft cider.
Ed Clark, the former TD Bank executive who is now the premier’s special adviser on government assets, said the government will announce a new minimum price for wine in next week’s provincial budget.
And he said small producers of spirits will be allowed to sell directly to bars and restaurants, and will get a greater commission. Currently when they sell their own product at their distillery they get a commission of 13 per cent.
On the wine sales, Clark recommends Ontario allocate further tranches of grocery store licenses at three year intervals to get up to the total of 150, saying that would allow producers to keep up with the increased production demand.
“Change inevitably works much better when it’s done incrementally,” he said, warning that a “Big Bang” approach often leads to higher prices.
The changes will help both foreign and domestic wine producers, added Clark.
“Ontario takes its trade obligations extremely seriously,” he said.
Clark last year advised the government against privatizing the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and after updating the beer regulations said that wine was more difficult to tackle because of international trade agreements such as NAFTA.
Ontario now has more than 240 wineries, with VQA sales in the province totalling $288 million in 2014-15, a 66 per cent increase in five years.