Liquor laws see substantial changes

Price break for private agencies, liquor at grocers

Changes to the province’s liquor policies and wholesale pricing will see widespread changes from alcoholic beverages sold in grocery stores to government agencies selling cold beer and wine.

While a minimum purchase price will continue to be in place, government touts the change as a move to create a more competitive marketplace by allowing private stores a lower wholesale price.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says under the current pricing rules, rural agencies and other private liquor outlets get a lesser discount, while the new system means everyone will have the same wholesale costs.

“The really good part about the whole thing is that it will be a level playing field.”

A government press release states more than 50 industry meetings and many written submissions in the recent Liquor Policy Review called for more equitability, including wholesale pricing.

“It will help their bottom line, and probably help those who want to hire another employee but their margins are so low they couldn’t hire anybody,” explains Barnett.

“And, if they want to enhance their store, they’ll hopefully have a little more money in their pocket to do things.”

Liquor sales will be allowed in grocery stores as of April 1 with consumer access controlled by a “store within a store.”

Barnett says her initial concern during the policy review was ensuring large grocery stores adding liquor and government agencies installing refrigeration do not put smaller beer-and-wine stores out of business.

However, a one-kilometre proximity between all liquor agencies will be in effect, which will mean not every grocery store can get a liquor outlet, she says, adding there is also a “big” capital investment involved.

“In our small, rural communities, I don’t believe it will make a difference.”

The MLA notes there won’t be any more private liquor agencies in a community than were already licensed.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton says government expects these changes will “benefit consumers,” enable more competition between retailers and “should not force any change” in shelf prices.

Providing lower wholesale liquor pricing to general stores should benefit rural residents, Barnett says, adding that is why those agency licenses were allowed in the first place.

“Why should rural residents be charged more than urbanites?”

Other changes include allowing breweries improved pricing on greater volumes of low- and medium-priced beer.

More information is online at www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2014/03/bc-outlines-balanced-plan-for-grocery-store-liquor-sales.html.