Spirits industry looking for ‘equal treatement’

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Jan Westcott, president and CEO of Spirits Canada

Jan Westcott says the spirit industry wants a level playing field in Ontario.

The head of Spirits Canada was in Corunna Wednesday to meet with a small group which included Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu and Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey as well as municipal councillors from Brooke-Alvinston and Sarnia. He’s on a mission to have the Ontario government allow the spirit industry to sell its products in grocery and corner stores.

In 2015, the Ontario Liberal government allowed the sale of beer and wine into grocery stores but consumers couldn’t buy their favourite whiskey without going to an LCBO store.

During the pandemic, Westcott says the restaurant industry successfully lobbied the provincial government to sell pre-made mixed drinks with take out orders. But even with 60 of 82 government MPPs agreeing spirits should have the same market access as beer and wine, the province has yet to make the move.

“We went through a similar process … in 1982 and Quebec made the decision to allow beer and wine to be sold in large chain grocery stores in Quebec, we had 40 per cent of the beverage alcohol market in Quebec…Over that seven or eight year period there, our market share crashed to 14 per cent,” he told The Independent after the event at the Corunna Legion.

“When people had the opportunity to buy a bottle of wine or six pack of beer, once or twice a week, when they did their grocery shopping, they stopped going to the FAQ – that Quebec’s LCBO – and our sales went through the went to the floor.

“We closed most of our distilleries, we laid off all kinds of people. It basically killed the business in Quebec.”

Westcott says the spirit industry sells about 29 per cent of the alcohol in Ontario and says the industry “can’t take the risk” of its market share being eroded because it doesn’t have equal market access.

“We would like the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with everybody else. That’s what we’re asking for.”

Westcott says without that commitment, it will be harder to attract large investments like Diagio’s plans to build a new Crown Royal plant in St. Clair Township.

“We need to attract capital investment from those companies into the Canadian business, to improve our plants to make ourselves more environmentally sustainable, to create new products to innovate, and to market our products, both here and around the world. And when we have things like this, that come up, and people in those other countries say, ‘I’m not sure we should be putting more money into Canada, we’re not getting equal treatment.'”