New Brunswick

NB Liquor has sold a fraction of its 40,000 corporate growlers

NB Liquor purchased 40,000 growlers earlier this year as the Crown corporation prepared for its foray into selling craft beer in the refillable beer bottles, but flat sales have left tens of thousands of the bottles sitting on shelves.

Liquor corporation should 'stick to what they are good,' says Picaroons owner Sean Dunbar

NB Liquor purchased 40,000 growlers earlier this year as the Crown corporation prepared for its foray into selling craft beer in the refillable beer bottles, but flat sales have left tens of thousands of the bottles sitting on shelves.

The Crown corporation became the first liquor agency in Canada to allow customers to buy craft beer in refillable beer jugs in September.

The initial concept may have been novel, but sales of the liquor corporation’s bottles have been stagnant.

Marcelle Saulnier, a NB Liquor spokesperson, said the Crown corporation has sold less than 3,000 of the 40,000 growlers ordered earlier this year. (CBC)
​Marcelle Saulnier, a NB Liquor spokesperson, said 2,718 of the corporation’s growlers had been sold as of last week.

Part of the thing is that the program did change to include other growlers. So I wouldn’t necessarily say misjudge, but it was something that we had to adapt to later on,” she said.

“But we will have a plan in place to reduce the inventory, absolutely.”

Originally, NB Liquor intended to require beer drinkers to purchase one of the corporation’s own $10 growlers before they could tap into one of the types of craft beer being sold at the three participating stores.

With that plan in mind, NB Liquor spent $124,210 to purchase the 40,000 growler bottles in advance of the September rollout.

The plan to require beer drinkers to buy a corporate growler fizzled within the first week as many customers balked at the corporate policy. NB Liquor began allowing customers to bring in any 1.89-litre growler to be filled at the liquor store.

Without the requirement to purchase the liquor agency’s self-styled growler, the inventory has been stuck on the shelf.

When the growler program started, the craft beer was only offered in three stores: Fredericton, Dieppe and in the Kennebecasis Valley. The program recently expanded to Sackville, where Saulnier said the liquor agency is hoping to sell more of its growlers.

The growler program is also set to be reviewed in March, when NB Liquor will decide whether the program should continue. There will also be conversations about how to start moving the surplus of empty growlers.

“We will obviously need to have some plan in place [to sell the remaining growlers] depending on what happens after March 2015,” she said.

“If we are looking at expanding, if we are looking at changing stores, unlike our other inventory, it doesn’t go bad, so that is a good thing.”

NB Liquor is also planning more promotional activities where the corporation's growlers will be given away to a select number of customers who show up to purchase the craft beer.

NB Liquor 'should stick to what they are good at'

Sean Dunbar, owner of Picaroons Traditional Ales, said NB Liquor’s growler miscalculation is systematic of a Crown corporation overstepping its mandate.

Sean Dunbar, the owner of Picaroons, said NB Liquor should focus on its areas of strength and that could mean giving up some control of its growler program. (CBC)
“For all the good the program is and I applaud it, it does help to point out that one should stick to one’s knitting,” Dunbar said.

“NB Liquor is very, very good at some things and I think they should stick to what they are good at and then find the people who are good at other things and get them to do it.”

Stephen Dixon, the owner of Grimross Brewing in Fredericton, was also surprised by the amount of unused NB Liquor growlers.

“So they have a ways to go. They have high goals, that’s good,” Dixon said when told of the sales figures.

“They are committed to grow the sector, so maybe this is their way to try to grow it. But I think they should work closely with us and maybe we could help them to do that.”

22,223 litres of craft beer sold

While the actual glass bottles have not been flying off the shelves at NB Liquor stores, beer drinkers have been busy filling up their growlers. NB Liquor says 22,223 litres of craft beer have been sold since September.

Stephen Dixon, the owner of Grimross Brewing, said he'd like NB Liquor to work closely with craft beer companies to improve the system. (CBC)
NB Liquor is unable to track how much individual breweries have sold through the program. Customers are able to purchase 1.89 litre refills of beer that cost between $10 and $20.

There have also been questions asked about the variety of beer offered at the three craft beer taps at each of the growler stations.

For instance, Picaroons has had a guaranteed tap in Fredericton as does global beer behemoth InBev, which leaves one tap as a “wildcard.”

NB Liquor’s Saulnier said the corporation has started an experiment that will see Picaroons offered outside of Fredericton. Last week, Picaroons could be found in Dieppe and Moncton’s Pump House was offered in the capital city.

When the growler policy was being crafted, Dunbar said he was given advance notice, but not all of his suggestions were entertained by the liquor agency.

Dunbar said he thought there would be inter-city crossover of beer brands, so drinkers could taste products that weren’t readily available in that city. In Fredericton, the Picaroons Brewtique is roughly five kilometres away from the NB Liquor store that also pours the brewery’s beer.

“I have no idea why it hasn’t crossed over, I have a feeling that there are some adjustments coming and that might be one of them … It makes no sense to me,” he said.

“Once again, that is a lack of understanding of the consumer and of how that works.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel McHardie

Digital senior producer

Daniel McHardie is the digital senior producer for CBC New Brunswick. He joined CBC.ca in 2008. He also co-hosts the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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