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Ontario will pay Beer Store up to $225M to speed up expansion of alcohol sales

Ontario is introducing sales of beer, wine and ready-made cocktails into corner stores and additional supermarkets 16 months ahead of schedule, a move that will see the province pay up to $225 million to The Beer Store.

Retailers, including convenience stores and gas stations, will be able to start selling the low-alcohol beverages as of Sept. 4. The process for applying for a licence from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will open on June 17, the province says.

Similarly, grocery stores that already have licences for beer and wine will be allowed to sell ready-to-drink cocktails on Aug. 1.

All other supermarkets and grocers in the province will be able to sell beer, wine, cider and canned spirit drinks as of Oct. 31.

Premier Doug Ford and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy announced the impending changes at a news conference in Etobicoke Friday morning.

All retail locations participating in the government’s expansion of where alcohol will be available for purchase will be able to sell any packs of beer of any size, including 30 packs.

The LCBO will continue to be the only retailer that sells high-alcohol spirits like gin and whisky.

Ford’s plan to “modernize” the province’s alcohol market was first announced by the premier last December, but it wasn’t supposed to take effect until 2026.

That timeline was in part due to the province’s Master Framework Agreement (MFA) with the multinational brewing conglomerates that own The Beer Store, which currently has a quasi-monopoly on the distribution and sale of beer in Ontario. 

The MFA will expire in 2025, with The Beer Store set to remain the primary wholesale distributor of beer in the province until 2031.

At a technical briefing for media Friday, Ministry of Finance officials said the $225 million from the province will help The Beer Store maintain jobs, its retail footprint, and offset the costs of an accelerated timeline for beer sales at more locations throughout Ontario.

The ministry estimates there will be some 8,500 new locations where consumers can purchase low-alcohol products, giving Ontario the third-highest density of alcohol retail stores among the provinces, behind only Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. 

Ontario will be the third jurisdiction in Canada to offer beer in corner stores and the first to sell ready-to-drink cocktails in those locations.

More to come.

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