New Brunswick

NB Liquor beer sales down $600K in first quarter

New Brunswickers are drinking more alcohol, but less beer, according to the latest financial results from NB Liquor.

Financial results released on heels of judge's border limit ruling that could further erode sales

NB Liquor's beer sales dropped by $600,000 during the first quarter, unaudited financial results show. (CBC)

New Brunswickers are drinking more alcohol, but less beer, according to the latest financial results from NB Liquor.

The unaudited results for the first quarter show an overall uptick of 1.6 per cent over the same period last year, with total sales of $101.9 million.

But beer sales dropped by $600,000, representing a one per cent decrease during the period that ended June 26, the figures show.

The findings come on the heels of a New Brunswick judge's recent decision that could further erode beer sales in the province.

Judge Ronald LeBlanc struck down the province's prohibitions on moving alcohol across borders as unconstitutional, and exonerated retiree Gerard Comeau, of Tracadie, who had gone above the limit.

New Brunswick's laws are designed to protect its own provincially run liquor stores against cheaper products from neighbouring Quebec.

The provincial government is appealing LeBlanc's ruling and insists any interprovincial trade deal must exclude alcohol for now.

In recent weeks, NB Liquor has been offering a beer promotion, selling 60 cans for $75, instead of $112, in a bid to compete against low prices in Quebec. The beer blitz has attracted customers from Nova Scotia.

Wine, spirit sales up

Wine and spirit sales for NB Liquor were both up during the first quarter at $1.1 million (5.4 per cent) and $600,000 (2.9 per cent) respectively, while the "other" beverages category grew by $500,000 (6.2 per cent).

Total sales for the year ending on March 27 were up by $16.5 million, reaching $410.4 million, the newly-released audited results show.

"The total volume for the year was 57.6 million litres," president and CEO Brian Harriman said in a statement.

NB Liquor president and CEO Brian Harriman says the volume of overeall sales for the year ending on March 27 was 57.6 million litres. (CBC News)
"Both the number of transactions and the average basket size saw slight increases from last year, and there was growth in every product category," he said.

Net earnings of the provincial Crown corporation increased by $6.3 million to $171.6 million.

Section 134 of the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act states people in New Brunswick may only have liquor purchased from the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation, except for limits set out in regulations.

Those regulations limited the importation of alcohol for personal use to one bottle of liquor or wine, or 12 pints of beer.

In his decision, LeBlanc cited section 121 of the Constitution Act, which states: "All articles of the growth, produce or manufacture of any of the provinces shall, and from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other provinces."

The federal government is pushing hard to include an ambitious liberalization of alcohol laws in a free trade deal expected to be ratified by the provinces and territories next year, despite provincial intransigence, the country's economic development minister has said.

The premiers hashed out an agreement-in-principle during their talks in Yukon last month, Navdeep Bains has said. "I am very confident, and I'm very hopeful, that we can ratify this agreement next year," he told David Cochrane on CBC Radio's The House.

NB Liquor has 44 corporate retail outlets, 84 private agency store outlets and 18 grocery stores selling wine across the province.