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Ontario to start expansion of alcohol sales in convenience and grocery stores this summer

Alcohol sales in Ontario will be enhanced in grocery stores and expanded to convenience stores this summer, a year-and-a-half sooner than expected, following a deal that will see the Ontario government provide The Beer Store up to $225 million for the early rollout.

“We are delivering on our commitment to give consumers in Ontario the choice and convenience every other Canadian enjoys and we’re doing so even sooner than we had originally promised,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement Friday.

The expansion in grocery stores could begin as soon as Aug. 1, when grocery stores which are already licensed will be allowed to start selling ready-to-drink beverages as well as large-pack sizes of beer.

Convenience stores will then be allowed to start selling beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink beverages as early as Sept. 5.

As of Oct. 31, all eligible grocery and big box stores will be able to sell beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink beverages, including large-pack sizes.

“In the coming weeks and months, people in Ontario, like many Canadians across the country, will have the option to responsibly and conveniently purchase a case of beer or a bottle of wine on their way up to the cottage or to a summer barbecue, all while having even more opportunity to support local Ontario breweries and wineries,” Ford said.

Province will give Beer Store up to $225M for early rollout

A master framework agreement signed in 2015 under the previous Liberal government limited the expansion of beer and wine sales in the province and was set to expire in 2025.

The provincial government said Friday that as part of an agreement reached with The Beer Store to expand alcohol sales early, it will reimburse the conglomerate up to $225 million “to make the necessary investments over the next 19 months to support a stable transition to a more open and conventional marketplace.”

That will include a one-time initial payment of $22.5 million to make sure The Beer Store has enough funds to cover early implementation costs. It will also cover costs such as purchasing more trucks to deliver to more outlets.

As per a previous agreement, The Beer Store will continue to be the distribution of beer to retailers, bars and restaurants until at least 2031.

As part of the plan, the LCBO will become the exclusive wholesaler of alcohol to all grocery and convenience stores.

The government said that the deal will protect jobs across the province and keep The Beer Store locations open for recycling and bottle return.

Government says expansion will be responsible

The province says that a more open and competitive marketplace will improve choice and convenience for consumers, as well as support economic growth for local businesses.

Groups like the Ontario Public Health Association have expressed concern in the past about expanding alcohol sales. The group warned last year of “inevitable consequences of illnesses, deaths and social harms to our citizens” which it said would be associated with increased sales and consumption of alcohol in Ontario.

Ont. Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said Friday that Ontario‘s approach is “responsible and balanced” and that it “treats Ontario consumers like adults by giving them more choice and convenience.”

Retailers will be allowed to sell alcohol below their wholesale costs, but there will still be provincially-set price minimums.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO) of Ontario will continue to be responsible for regulating and licensing retailers to sell alcohol and will be able to take action against infractions in the marketplace.

The province has said that it will also be providing an additional $10 million over five years to support social responsibility and public health efforts around alcohol sales and consumption.

In a release, the government touted the coming changes as the “largest expansion of consumer choice and convenience since the end of prohibition almost 100 years ago” and said they will eventually result in up to 8,500 new stores where consumers can buy alcohol.

It said consumers can also expect to benefit from “competitive retail pricing across all new points of sale and The Beer Store” as part of the new arrangement.

With files from Siobhan Morris   

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