Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says people could see beer for sale at select grocery stores in the province by Christmas time. 

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Wynne announced that by December, about 60 Ontario grocery stores will get their authorization to sell beer, part of the government's plan announced earlier this year to open up how beer and wine is sold in the province.

"Beer in grocery stores could be seen as a holiday present that many people have been waiting for a long time," said Wynne. "That wait is over."

Wynne said beer sales will be introduced to grocery stores in a "prudent, socially responsible way."

By May, about 150 stores will be approved to sell beer while the province hopes to boost that number to 450 supermarkets within three years.

A 10-year agreement between the government and foreign-owned Brewers Retail, which owns 447 Beer Store outlets, will keep the same prices wherever beer is sold.

The government had faced criticism about how beer is sold in Ontario, particularly through The Beer Store, which is owned by a group of large breweries. The Beer Store has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on retailing beer in Ontario since prohibition was repealed nearly 90 years ago.

Wynne said she had consulted with many in the industry, particularly craft brewers, who had complained about a distribution system that made it difficult for them to sell their product.

The first batch of licences will be limited to 25 grocery stores in the Greater Toronto Area, 16 in western Ontario, 13 in the east and six in the north, which is divided further among large, medium and small operators.

Other changes announced by the premier Wednesday include:

  • Imposing a 20 per cent minimum shelf space for small brewers in The Beer Store network. 
  • A move to open up The Beer Store ownership to other players in the industry.
  • Grocery store retailers will not be subject to a strict cap on sales. When fully phased in, should sales across the grocery network exceed $450 million, grocers whose sales exceed their share of that global cap will pay a small fee.
  • A rule to devote 20 per cent of beer shelf space in grocery stores to products from Ontario's small and craft brewers.
  • Allowing 9,000 smaller bars and restaurants to buy beer at retail prices instead of paying premium rates.

"Our objective was to keep prices low and level the playing field," Wynne said. 

She added current restrictions on hours of sale for beer will apply to grocery stores. 

The new rules for the Beer Store are spelled out in this document.

With files from The Canadian Press