Selling through the Grocery Sales Channel

Grocery has been an important sales channel for alcohol in some Canadian provinces for many years, while others have just recently allowed the sale of alcohol through this channel, or are considering it. In 2015 and in 2016, British Columbia and Ontario respectively announced they would allow the sale of alcohol through grocery stores. Given this recent change, it is important our members are familiar with the rules and regulations around sales via the grocery channel. Below you will find information and weblinks for each province which currently allows sales through the grocery channel, or is looking to do so.

Alberta

The retailing of liquor in Alberta has been privatized since 1993, becoming the first and only Canadian province to privatize retailing, warehousing, and distribution of liquor. The AGLC registers liquor suppliers, issues licenses and inspects the facilities of private operators, with liquor products sold in over 2,000 licensed outlets. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC), regulates where alcohol can be sold or consumed.

Details of the AGLC’s Policies and Guidelines, as well as their Handbooks can be found here.

Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, Retail Liquor Store Handbook

Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, General Merchandise Liquor Stores Handbook

Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, Liquor Agency Handbook

British Columbia

In British Columbia, alcoholic beverages may be sold only in more than 1,400 retail outlets of which approximately 194 are Government liquor stores. Retail outlets include:

  • Privately owned retail stores (stores can only be operated by primary liquor license holders, such as bars, pubs and hotels, but the stores can be located off site)
  • Government-owned stores
  • Rural government-appointed liquor agencies (which may be a gas station or convenience store)
  • Privately owned Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wine stores
  • As of April 1, 2015, wine will be permitted to be sold in select grocery stores.

The beverage alcohol industry in British Columbia (BC) is controlled by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB).

Details of the BCLDB’s Liquor Polices and Handbooks can be found here.

British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, Licensee Retail Store Licence: Terms & Conditions

British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, Wine Store Terms & Conditions

British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, Manufacturer Terms and Conditions Handbook (covering winery retail stores)

British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, Agent Terms & Conditions

New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, currently only government-owned Alcool NB Liquor (ANBL) stores or rural government-appointed liquor agencies may sell beer, wine, and liquor. ANBL began a pilot project in spring 2014 in which six selected grocery stores were able to sell wine. While the pilot ended on Dec. 31, 2015, the stores were allowed to continue selling wine after the pilot ended. The results of this pilot are currently being considered by ANBL, including on whether wine should continue to be sold through the grocery channel, with regards to the range of wines available in grocery, and the number of stores.

The New Brunswick Liquor Corporation or Alcool NB Liquor (ANBL) controls the importation, distribution, and retail activity for all beverage alcohol in the province.

Details of ANBL’s Liquor Policies and Handbooks can be found here.

Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, the NSLC is the sole distributor and manages a network of 105 NSLC retail stores across the province, 60 agency stores (those paired with other businesses in smaller communities), and four Private Wine & Specialty stores (Harvest Wines & Spirits, Cristall Wine Merchants, Premier Wine & Spirits and the Bishop’s Cellar). Alcoholic beverages in Nova Scotia are controlled by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC).

Details of the NSLC’s Licensee Information can be found here.

Nova Scotia Government, Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation Regulations

Ontario

Wine is sold through two primary channels in Ontario: the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and private wine retailers in store outlets.  There are 500 stores in the WRS network, which include 208 on-site stores (located at wineries) and 292 offsite stores (located away from wineries).

Substantive changes are underway in Ontario with the establishment of a grocery retail channel for wine and beer.  The first element is to bring imported and domestic wine and beer into grocery stores across Ontario. It is anticipated that over the next ten years there will be 300 grocery stores selling beer and wine, and 150 grocery stores selling only beer. The sale, service, and consumption of beverage alcohol in Ontario is regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), and alcohol sales are controlled by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, Beer and Wine Authorization: Selling Beer and Wine in Grocery Stores

Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, Winery Retail Store Information Guide

Quebec

Wine sales in Quebec are relatively liberalized. Wine can be purchased at the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), in a grocery store, a corner store, or on-site at a winery. To note, however, only wine which is bottled in Quebec or distributed through a Quebec representative can be purchased at corner stores and supermarkets. The SAQ sales network includes a total of 402 SAQ stores and 439 agency stores.

In Quebec, the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux (RACJ) regulates the sales and manufacturing of wine, while the SAQ controls alcohol sales.

Details of the RACJ’s Liquor Permitting can be found here.

Légis Québec, Regulation respecting the terms of sale of alcoholic beverages by holders of a grocery permit

Légis Québec, Regulation respecting wine and other alcoholic beverages made or bottled by holders of a wine maker’s permit

Légis Québec, Regulation respecting promotion, advertising and educational programs relating to alcoholic beverages

Saskatchewan

Currently, only government-owned Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) stores and rural private/government liquor stores (privately-operated contractors) sell wine in the off-sales channel in Saskatchewan. All Saskatchewan privately-operated off-sale outlets must be attached to a licensed on-sale establishment. SLGA’s retail system includes 75 liquor stores, 188 rural franchises and private stores in Saskatoon and Regina.

In 2016, the SGLA opened up 50 retail store permit opportunities, covering 39 Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) liquor stores that are being converted into private stores, as well as 11 new retail store permits, to prospective bidders. The timeline of the transition of these stores to private stores is variable, depending on location and whether the store is existing or yet to be built.

Distribution, control, and regulation of alcoholic beverages are controlled by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA). While new policy guidance is likely to be issued in view of the change, the current policy guidelines with regards to the off-sale of alcohol are listed below.

Details of the SLGA’s Policies and Guidelines can be found here.

Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, Commercial Liquor Permittee Policy Manual