Beer Store expands ownership to include craft brewers

The Beer Store has expanded its board of directors and ownership. Two local breweries will be representatives at the board and two other local craft breweries are now considered co-owners of the beer retailer.

Reps from Sleemans, Brick to sit on new board

Some smaller brewers now have representation on the Beer Store board of directors. (CBC)

Two local craft breweries are hoping that having a voice on the revamped board of directors for the Beer Store will mean changes at the provincial beer retailer.

It was announced on Friday that 25 Ontario-based brewers are all now co-owners of the Beer Store, which is still the only place in the province where beer lovers can get a full case of 24.

Previously, the Beer Store had three owners: Molson, Labatt and Sleemans. All three companies are owned by larger conglomerates that are not Canadian-based and critics said they had a virtual monopoly over the market.

Jane Southgate from Grand River Brewing in Cambridge said the co-ownership is more like owning a share for the smaller craft brewers.The brewery paid $100 and they can vote for one person to represent them on the newly expanded 15-member board.

"When I looked at it, I didn't think I had anything to lose and it gave me more access to information," Southgate said, although she admitted not knowing exactly what information she will have access to, as they are fairly new to selling in the Beer Store. Grand River sells canned beer in seven stores.

"I'm just looking forward to knowing more about it," she said.

Sleeman, Brick reps to sit on board

In total, there are four local breweries that are now considered co-owners:

  • Brick Brewing Co. in Waterloo
  • Grand River Brewing in Cambridge
  • Sleeman Brewery in Guelph
  • Wellington Brewery in Guelph

Greg Newbrough of Sleeman and George Croft of Brick Brewery have been named the two directors for larger Ontario-based brewers who sell more than 50,000 hectolitres each year.

As well, Molson and Labatt will each have four directors on the board and there will be four independent directors from other industries.

It's all a step in the right direction, but it's a baby step.- Jane Southgate, Grand River Brewing

The smaller craft brewers who became co-owners have one director and will be represented by Frank Heaps of Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto.

Southgate said Heaps was chosen "because he has so much knowledge of the process, instead of picking someone who was brand new to any dealings with the beer store."

'Better shopping experience'

Wellington Brewery's vice president of brewing Brent Davies said he hopes Heaps will be able to voice the desire for change at the retailer.

"In the past, we've never had kind of a voice or a person out there to represent us," he said.

"The biggest thing that we want change for is to be able to have our product be seen and be held by our customers," Davies added, noting Wellington has been in the Beer Store for 20 years.

"A lot of the old set-up stores, your product's behind the wall so you can't really see your product, you just see it as a label on a shelf or it's on an iPad out front that says Wellington SPA or whatever and you choose from there," he said.

"We think customers like to actually touch and feel the product, where you can go in and you can look at the case itself, the product itself, you can hold the bottle, you can read about it and everything like that. A better shopping experience is what we'd like to see at the beer stores."

Davies said he's unsure if there is room for representation for craft brewers in Ontario to grow on the board of directors in the future.

Southland said she hopes this is just the start of a better system of getting beer to the Ontarians who want it.

"It will be interesting to see how it goes. It's just making it a little bit more open than it was before," she said. "It's all a step in the right direction, but it's a baby step."


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