Londoners can now get low-alcohol drinks from convenience stores

Exterior photo of a convenience store CREDIT: JUSTIN KOEHLER
Happy Days Mini Mart in North-West London, might be seeing low-alcohol drinks on its shelves soon.

The Ontario government announced late in December of 2023 that Ontarians will soon be able to purchase beer, cider, wine, and other low-alcohol drinks from convenience stores across the province.

According to the government, upwards of 8,500 new stores will be affected by the change, now being able to sell the given products.

Other higher-alcohol drinks such as vodka, gin, and whiskey will continue to be sold at LCBOs.

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“We made a promise to the people of Ontario to deliver more choice and convenience,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “There’s no reason why Ontario consumers shouldn’t enjoy the same convenient shopping experience as Canadians in every other province when buying some wine for their holiday party or a case of beer or seltzers on their way to the cottage.”

On top of the general announcement, the government has also said that they will be putting various other measures in place along with the move. They added that they will introduce competitive pricing to all private retailers to promote competition and a better deal for consumers. “We know that competition in the marketplace will ensure that products are still priced fairly,” said Gary Sands, the Senior Vice President with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

“This will mean more stores will decide to sell these products and therefore provide more choice and convenience for consumers.”

The province is also removing restrictions and exclusivities on pack sizes. Consumers will now be able to purchase any pack size, including 12-packs, 24-packs or even 30-packs, similar to what is popular in Quebec.

One of the main focuses of these moves is to bring more access and availability to local breweries and companies, now able to distribute their products to further shelves.

“This will put consumers first and make it easier for Ontarians to find and purchase local craft beer,” said Scott Simmons, President of Ontario Craft Brewers.

“We are particularly pleased the government is building the system to support Ontario-made producers, for example, by maintaining dedicated shelf space for craft beer and continuing to prevent stocking fees so consumer choice determines what is on the shelves.”

This extends also to wine growers in Ontario, to whom the government is immediately enhancing the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Wine Support Program beginning in 2024- 25 for up to five years to 2028-29. They say this is to support the growth and sale of Ontario-grown VQA wines.

“The decision to extend the VQA support program for five years is a game-changer,” said Debbie Zimmerman, CEO with the Grape Growers of Ontario.

“It not only provides stability for both farmers and wineries, but it will also fuel growth. The elimination of the 6.1 per cent Winery Retail Tax will invigorate Ontario wineries and make it possible for them to reinvest in their businesses and drive innovation. Together, we toast to a thriving grape and wine landscape in Ontario.'

In the months ahead, the government said they will continue to meet and consult with industry partners, local beverage alcohol producers and other stakeholders on additional areas of the future marketplace.

They added that the province will also conduct a broader review of taxes and fees on beer, wine and alcoholic beverages with the aim of promoting a more competitive marketplace for Ontario-based producers and consumers.