Thursday, March 20, 2014

Get Ready for Hard-to-Swallow Higher Booze Prices in BC Supermarkets - Easier To Buy, Not Cheaper

Going into the red - BC price $17.95, $15.95 in Ontario and $11.10 in Chicago!
BC Libs' changes will simply increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday March 18, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

There are only two real ways to get ahead today -- sell liquor or drink it."
- W.C. Fields, comedian, 1880-1946
Beer, wine and spirits are coming to British Columbia supermarkets next year, but don't expect cheaper booze -- if anything, what is already among North America's highest-priced alcohol will only get more expensive.
Consumers say they would love the convenience of supermarket sales, but that thrill may be gone when prices stay the same or likely go higher than in B.C. government liquor stores.
The reality of BC Liberal changes is to make booze easier to access, but prices harder to swallow.
So forget about B.C. becoming like Washington State or Europe, with giant supermarket chains offering deep discounts on your favourite beverage.
The government's real goal is simply to increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.
The only way most prices could actually drop is if government reduced its $1-billion annual booze profits -- and that ain't gonna happen.
And since most B.C. private liquor stores already charge $2, $3 or much more per bottle of wine, spirits or a case of beer than government rates, without a wholesale price drop retail prices will stay sky high.
In fact, there is nothing in the B.C. liquor review that gives even faint hope to thirsty drinkers of any cut to the high cost of quaffing.
Booze costs already too damn high
There are two models for sales in grocery stores. The main one is called a "store within a store," where supermarkets will have a liquor sales area separated from grocery products and minors.
In addition, some B.C. VQA-certified wines will be made available at some point directly on grocery store shelves without the separate store model, though details aren't yet clear.
When this column did a price comparison of wine and beer prices in 2012, the gap between B.C. prices and other jurisdictions was stunning.
And it still is.
One example: the widely distributed Perrin Cote Du Rhone Reserve red wine sells for $17.95 a bottle in B.C. Liquor Stores, but $16.50 in Quebec government liquor stores, $15.95 in Ontario, only $13 in a private Alberta store if you buy a case of 12, and just $11.10 Canadian at Binny's in Chicago -- or $10.54 a bottle if you buy a case!
And while occasionally a B.C. bottle can be had cheaper, overall any online search will find wine, beer and spirits here are very pricey in both public and private stores.
So, government "modernizes" liquor laws, booze arrives in grocery stores, and yet the prices will only go up, not down.

Drink that irony in.



e.a.f. said...

Just another example of how the b.c. lieberals really can't function in the business world. At the rate of unemployment and the lack of real increases to income, we just might find a whole lot of people are going to be drinking less. Ferry rates have increased, so has hydro, insurance premiums. Salaries and pensions haven't kept up. In a lot of households the first thing to go will be the booze. They can make their own for a lot less money.

The b.c. lieberals might want to focus on such things as health care, educations, etc. of course if they can't run a booze can with a monopoly, there isn't much hope for more important things.

DPL said...

There is a private liquor store across the street from a Government one where we live, with another one a block and a half away. We use the government one, more variety, cheaper, folks who know the product and we support unions . I rather doubt in that area of town any grocery store would qualify to sell booze.

Anonymous said...

More choice is a good thing. Private store near me has more selection and staff are more knowledgeable. Public Signature stores are great but others are lacking. Competition will hopefully motivate public stores to increase service levels as staff are very apathetic, sadly a common trait among public sector employees.

Anonymous said...

"We support unions. I rather doubt in that area of town any grocery store would qualify to sell booze"

A UFCW member can easily learn the
line of wines in the Liquor section Of the grocery store. It's not that difficult for them to complete.

The BCGEU members running BC Liquour stores were not somehow born with the talent to be liquor product advisors. They like anyone had to learn the product lines, just as anyone who isn't union would.

PeterInEdmonton said...

I’m a bit worried about you, Bill that you would care this much about cheap booze. I thought that progressive columnists usually supported price protection for local workers. When I visit BC, I sometimes sample the quality local wines, which run at about $20 per bottle. I notice that you tend to concentrate on cheap foreign imports, like the French wine in this column and the Argentinian in 2012, although you did mention Labatt Beer in the earlier column.
I got a flyer in my mailbox as I was writing this for a chain of liquor stores common in Alberta advertising seven labels of wine for under 10$ - all of them from California. Shouldn’t you be advocating higher prices to protect the workers producing Kalona Red as well as those producing more upscale stuff?
There isn’t much coverage out here (a little thing like a premier’s resignation is hogging the news) but it sounds like the real problem is the 1 Km non-compete zone. I heard one report that only two groceries in the Vancouver area would qualify to stock booze. I think that it is more applicable to small towns like my home town which has one or maybe two supermarkets that might qualify. One of them is a few blocks away from a private liquor store, so I guess somebody from BCL will have to go measure if they apply. What if two supermarkets are within 1 Km of each other? Does the first one to stock booze shut out the other?
Did your NDP’s run on nationalization of private liquor sales during the 2013 election? I don’t recall seeing any policy on their web site, but then that site was pretty thin in general.
The health detriments of immoderate liquor consumption are well known. I hope that you are not being too sincere in this column.

Anonymous said...


I think you are complaining about a problem while being deathly opposed to the solution. The problem of liquor pricing in BC is two-fold.

1) A government controlled distribution system that does not allow retailers to purchase directly from producers.

2) High liquor taxes.

I can't see you being in favour of abolishing the government run, union staffed distribution system an I can't see you being in favour of cutting government revenue through lower liquor taxes.

So the aim of your complaint seems to be to provoke anger at a government you don't like rather than fixing the problem. Which is disingenuous.

Bill Tieleman said...

Peter In Edmonton - I am not talking about "cheap" booze - I am upset with the most expensive booze in North America!

No, the BC NDP did not run on re-nationalizing liquor sales - in fact, the BC NDP have been outspoken in advocating for artisanal spirits producers and others who get screwed by the big boys in the current system.

Liquor store workers are not protected by the high prices - the government revenue is! Anon 9:01 is correct that anyone can learn about wines but only if given the time and support.

I have actually worked with private liquor stores as clients in the past, so don't rush to judgement! I believe a mixed system can work just fine but greedy governments taking too much make it painful. And I don't claim the NDP would lower prices!

Too sincere? No one has accused me of that before! LOL!

Anon 16:21 - did you actually read my column? I advocate for lower liquor taxes! Sales taxes are inherently regressive and punish those with lower income vs higher - just like the HST did. You may recall that I opposed it rather strongly! ;-)

On the government controlled distribution system, they could get rid of it and still tax the hell out of us while saving the costs of labour - that wouldn't be any improvement.

If you want to be ideologically correct, you should argue for a complete free market - let everyone in, no separation of booze from groceries, no distance limitations - just basic safety rules on sales to minors and let the free hand decide who survives. Is that your view?

e.a.f. said...

poor peter in Edmonton. for a brief moment I thought Peter Puck had moved back.

The current liquor system provides needed taxes and provides living wage jobs. Many of the private stores don't. Its min. wage or a tad above.

We don't need liquor in grocery stores or gas stations. The current system is just fine.
The "high" price of booze. Who cares? Its nice, but its not a necessity. While growing up in the 50s and 60s, booze came into our home at Christmas. The neighbours who had a lot more coming into their homes wondered how our parents could afford that cute little boat. Real easy. As an young adult, of course I drank--a lot. Now its just better to have the money in the bank. At any time it didn't matter where the store was or how far it was to drive, if you want it you want it. We ought to be more concerned about how convenient it is to get to the hospital or schools for our kids.