No wholesale liquor pricing for restaurants and bars 

Provincial government willing to let grocery stores sell wine, beer and spirits

click to enlarge Changes coming
  • Changes coming

A new provincial liquor-pricing scheme is in the works.

A few details relating to the changes on the way were released on Thursday, March 6 by the provincial government.

In a news release focused on plans to allow grocery stores to sell liquor, the provincial government indicated it's developing "a price-based wholesale pricing model for wine and spirits" distributed by the Liquor Distribution Branch. The wholesale pricing model currently in place is reportedly going to become more consistent.

Lawyer Mark Hicken, who specializes in liquor laws, said he's happy the provincial government is looking at the wholesale pricing issue.

"It's a mess. It's a disaster for the hospitality industry," Hicken said of the current system, with mark-ups that vary across 22 categories of products. "I don't think you could design a worse system if you tried."

However, restaurants, bars and pubs will not get access to this new wholesale pricing system. It will be for outlets such as cold beer and wine stores, or grocery stores that decide to sell liquor under the proposed changes.

Hicken said it's bizarre that the province's biggest wholesale customers in the hospitality industry aren't going to get access to wholesale pricing.

"That puts the entire B.C. hospitality industry at a complete disadvantage to our neighbours because pretty much everywhere else in the world restaurants and bars get to purchase alcohol at wholesale price," said Hicken.

"I don't know why you would design a new wholesale system and not fix the biggest problem in the system."

Samantha Rahn, wine director at Araxi, was extremely disappointed by the news that restaurants won't have access to wholesale pricing.

"It is frustrating having to explain to international guests that we actually take small mark ups on our wine list, and are making a very small profit on this important part of our business," she said.

When details of the new system are revealed early next year, Hicken expects to see a new price-based mark-up structure for wine and spirits. The current system is based on volume.

"I take that to mean there won't be a flat tax like they have in Alberta," said Hicken.

Suzanne Anton, the province's attorney general and minister of justice, made the announcement last week.

"We committed to British Columbians and to the industry that we would act quickly to modernize B.C.'s liquor laws — and we're delivering on that promise by bringing in an initial set of amendments to our liquor laws," she said.

Anton plans to start allowing grocery stores to sell liquor in a "store-within-a-store" model next year. As part of its promise to protect health and public safety, the government will require grocery stores to set up separate tills for liquor purchases.

Dave Brownridge, manager of Nesters Cold Wine and Beer, feels the provincial government is moving toward privatizing much of the retail end of the system.

"Once they (grocery stores) get into the game it will change," he said. "It's looking like they're (the province) wanting to introduce it to these grocers over time, so eventually they can become the new B.C. liquor stores."

According to Brownridge, the announcement brings better value to the license currently held by his store because the changes will allow stores like his to offer sales off-site.

"I may be able to set up at Cornucopia and offer all the guests there a retail store," said Brownridge.

Grocery Store operator Bob Adams, has no interest in selling alcohol, however.

"It just doesn't make sense for anybody in town," said Adams.

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