NB Liquor plans agency store expansion

The province's liquor corporation is preparing to expand its roster of agency stores in the fall, according to a NB Liquor spokesperson.

Association wants beer and wine sales in convenience stores

NB Liquor is planning to add 15 new agency stores to try and increase liquor sales.

The Crown corporation will issue a request for proposal this fall that will add as many as 15 new agency stores across the province.

Marcelle Saulnier, a NB Liquor spokesperson, said the corporation will be looking at establishing more agency stores in the future.

She said the corporation is trying to increase the number of places where customers can purchase NB Liquor products.

Saulnier said on Wednesday that New Brunswick has the fewest number of "points of sale" per capita of any province in Canada.

"We are looking at increasing customer exposure to our products," she said.

The NB Liquor spokesperson said this will also increase the corporation's revenue.

The corporation issued a strategic review of its operations earlier this year that called for several changes, including a larger role for the private sector.

The review said the corporation should look at reviewing the guidelines surrounding agency stores. There is an exclusion zone that prohibits two agency stores from being within 15 kilometres of each other. The report says that zone should be reduced to five or 10 kilometres.

The report said the idea could boost revenue from agency stores. But, the move could also spark a backlash among existing agency stores.

As a part of that review, NB Liquor also said it would look at adding more niche or specialty stores, such as private wine or beer stores.

In May, NB Liquor announced plans to open a seasonal agency store in Shediac.

Saulnier said when the liquor corporation issues its request for proposals, stores will be able to apply for the opportunity to become an agency store.

A separate committee will review those proposals and make a recommendation to NB Liquor's board of directors.

The NB Liquor board will have the final power to approve the new agency stores.

Convenience stores want larger role

NB Liquor's plan to boost the number of agency stores by 15 in the fall is being met with some opposition from a regional organization.

Mike Hammoud, the president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, said his group would like to see New Brunswick allow convenience stores to sell beer and wine products.

He said NB Liquor's approach allows the Crown corporation to "cherry pick" what stores it wants to do business with in the province.

"You get a bunch of convenience stores that try to become an agency store, they pick one. We know that there would be more than one store that would be capable. We don’t want to see the government picking winners and losers," he said.

Hammoud said NB Liquor should set out a clear list of criteria for convenience stores to meet if they want to sell beer and wine products. He said if a store meets those guidelines, then NB Liquor should allow them to sell beer and wine.

Those plans aren't sitting well with the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association.

The group would prefer to follow the Quebec model, where any outlet that meets NB Liquor requirements can sell beer and wine.

The corporation has reservations about such a system, Saulnier said.

"We don't want to become oversaturated and we believe this is a good starting point," she said. "It's been a successful program from the start, that's why we're looking at bringing it further."

Mike Hammoud, president of association, says given the effect that selling liquor has on a business, it creates an unfair business atmosphere in communities.

"We're not big fans of creating unlevel playing surfaces. We think people should have the same opportunity as the neighbour across the street, or the one down the road, to have the same opportunity to sell it," Hammoud said.

NB Liquor's model of rolling out a small number of agency stores actually hurts some convenience stores, according to the group.

Hammoud said stores rely on a high volume of customers walking through their doors. So, he said, if NB Liquor picks one store in a community to be an agency store, that will split the customer base and the other stores will struggle to compete.

"When somebody is given the agency store, most of the traffic goes toward that store and away from the other stores and then the lowest one on the totem pole becomes the first one to go, and it continues from there."

John Irvine and his family own the Mactaquac Esso — one of few convenience stores in the province that's allowed to sell liquor.

It's one of the only reasons his business has been able to stay open for this long, according to Irvine.

"We do well with the liquor, but if we didn't have that I don't think we would be open," Irvine said.

Tammy Poirier, the manager of the Nashwaak 6-12 agrees.

She says the ability to sell liquor would be great for business.

"It would bring a lot more traffic ... there's lots that stop here, get what they need and literally think that we have beer in our coolers, which we don't. We send them right back to Brookside," Poirier said.

More agency stores also mean more competition, something Irvine says he can't afford. He said he's happy with the rules as they are now.

"I don't see any reason to change it."