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'Clean finish' but bitter taste from N.B. beer

Kevin Yarr

by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

The province of New Brunswick has decided to fight competition from cross-border shopping by selling its own brand of beer in liquor stores.

The beer comes complete with all the bland analysis typical of discount beer, including my personal favourite: "a clean, fresh finish." That assessment came from the NB Liquor CEO Dana Clendenning.

I always take that to mean, "No flavour at all to speak of really."

NB Liquor, responsible for selling alcohol in the province, is concerned that too many New Brunswickers are driving to Quebec for cheaper beer, and apparently the only sensible solution is for the government to have Moosehead brew government-branded beer under licence and sell it cheaply.

Never mind that the last thing North America needs on the beverage front is more cheap, tasteless beer. The beer doesn't even achieve its main goal, still being about 50 per cent more expensive than the cheapest beer in Quebec.

And then you have to wonder about NB Liquor's business model. What is their job anyway? Every brewer (except Moosehead) loses out as the government retailer undercuts them, selling year-round at prices lower than they are allowed to.

Way back in the dark ages, provincial liquor agencies were established as a sort of halfway house between prohibition and the free market for liquor. If NB Liquor is promoting cheap beer sales, what exactly is its role now?

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Matt Ginn

moncton

Yes, this is a bizarre decision to say the least.

Posted March 16, 2009 07:02 AM

Glen

A government entity is generally something that services a market that otherwise isn't being taken care of. Therefore, I'd like to see a nice coffee porter, or something that follows the reinheitsgebot but is made for me by NB.

Posted March 16, 2009 07:42 AM

Cat

If anything, the Province of New Brunswick should provide stronger support on independent NB breweries, in the form of grants or marketing, for example (although now would probably be a bad time). There are some great independent breweries out of NB such as Pump House and Picaroons.

On a sidenote, either of those breweries should start providing "growlers" or refillable jugs at a discounted price, as seen in Halifax with both Propeller and Garrison.

Posted March 16, 2009 09:04 AM

J.O.

Isn't this a conflict of interest? As Mr. Yarr points out "Every brewer (except Moosehead) loses out as the government retailer undercuts them, selling year-round at prices lower than they are allowed to." How can this be allowed in an "open" market? This seems borderline criminal. NB Liquor can now "pimp" its own beer. This may be fine for companies like Molson, but what about the little guys like Pump House and Piccaroons?

NB Liquor should be ashamed and IMHO abolished.

Posted March 16, 2009 11:48 AM

lisa montblum

This is a crime. I believe these kinds of behaviours by government add to the justifications of people committing tax fraud and the like...

Posted March 16, 2009 04:46 PM

Cooper Krebs

The beer business in New Brunswick is heavilly regulated and controlled. No big deal since this is really not much different than any other province.

Past history has clearly indicated that although the day to day beer business is run by NB Liquor, the overall strategy of the beer business is controlled by Moosehead breweries. It has been an unstated goal of NB Liquor to protect Moosehead from Bud, Labatt, Molson and anything elsse that might erode their market share.

So without knowing what we know now, at the time of the launch of Selection Beer, it was a very safe bet to say it was Moosehead's idea. It turned out to be true. There was no public tender for the Selection Beer contract, it was given directly to Moosehead.

NB Liquor has tried to "smokesreen" the raison d'etre of Selection beer...i.e low cost beer for New Brunswickers by New Brunswickers, everyday low cost for consumers...etc...

But essentially this is a very anti-competitive move by NB Liquor. The everyday low price of 18.67 per 12 pack can does not compete with Quebec prices at all so this will have no impact on "beer bleed" as NB Liquor CEO Dana Clendenning christined the purchase of beer in Quebec by New Brunswickers. What it does do is allow Moosehead to have a beer prominently displayed at the lowest price allowed in every corner of this province at no cost to them. In fact we, the taxpayers, pay them to make the beer so it can be sold back to us.

In case you don't know, prominent display locations in NB Liquor stores are very expensive to reserve, in the order of a few thousand per month according to the marketing policie available at www.anbl.com. So if Selection beer is prominently displayed for 12 months (it has been for 5 months straight since the launch in March) it would should cost around $40,000. Not much you say for big breweries...I agree. The real savings for Moosehead come in the fact that they do not have to pay for the discounting of Selection beer. Normally, breweries have to pay 100% of the cost of discounting below mainstream price. The mainstream price for beer in New Brunswick is $20.99 for 12 pack cans. In other words the cost to sell beer at $18.67 is $2.32 per case sold. Lets say, on average NB Liquor sells 200 cases per store per week for 12 months of Selection beer. There are 48 stores. This adds up to well over 1 million dollars. I have not included the 70+ agency stores in NB that would sell Selection beer as well. This sure would account for a few hundred thousand in discount costs.

If you take into account, display space cost, discounting cost and other marketing costs (NB Liquor has a Selection beer website), print adds etc..) New Brunswickers have lost out on a couple million dollars that would have otherwise been paid to NB Liquor.

The 2 million dollar opportunity cost of Selection beer will have an impact. It will result in price increases for wine and spirits.

If you are beginning to think that the consumer is really getting screwed here, you are on the right track. Don't forget to think about Pumphouse and Piccaroons. Their tax dollars are being used by a Crown Corporation to directly compete with them. Incredible but true.

CAVEAT: The numbers used above are estimates but I think very reasonable estimates. NB Liquor has so far refused to release any sales figures for Selection beer or how much they are paying Moosehead to make

Posted July 15, 2009 07:14 PM

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

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