New Brunswick

Grocery store beer 'unfair' to convenience stores, argues association

Atlantic Canada's convenience store industry says NB Liquor's decision to sell beer in grocery stores creates an unfair competitive advantage.

Atlantic Convenience Stores Association says NB Liquor decision creates unfair competitive advantage

Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, says he's 'hopeful' NB Liquor and the provincial government will give more consideration to the convenience industry as a partner. (CBC )

Atlantic Canada's convenience store industry says NB Liquor's decision to sell beer in grocery stores creates an unfair competitive advantage.

NB Liquor announced Wednesday that 66 grocery outlets will stock beer starting in October.

Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, says his group is encouraged NB Liquor sees the private sector as a way to be more responsive to consumers.

"But you have a government-controlled corporation giving exclusivity to a segment of the retail convenience industry," he said Thursday. "That's an unfair competitive advantage for one industry sector that weakens the financial viability of many convenience stores across New Brunswick."

The association has been lobbying for beer and wine in convenience stores for more than 10 years, said Hammoud.

NB Liquor spokesperson Mark Barbour said the corporation's 89 licensed agency stores "would in large measure be considered convenience stores."

In total, NB Liquor has more than 250 licensed outlets, including corporate locations, agency stores, local producer stores and grocery stores.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that we operate our business in a socially responsible manner," said Barbour.

"Given the number of locations currently available, we believe there is an adequate number of locations and types of locations to satisfy customer demand."

Experience with age-restricted products

Hammoud contends convenience stores are best-equipped to sell age-restricted products.

"We think it's something that would compliment what we already do," he said. "Our employees are already trained at selling products similar to this — whether it's tobacco, whether it's lottery [tickets]. So alcohol is part of that fit."

Newfoundland and Labrador and Québec have sold alcohol through convenience stores "for decades," noted Hammoud.

Ontario is in the process of expanding alcohol sales to corner stores, and Prince Edward Island's new Progressive Conservative government made a pre-election commitment to expand the retailing of packaged beer through convenience stores.

The association hopes the New Brunswick Crown corporation will "give more consideration" to the convenience industry as an industry partner, he said.

NB Liquor will be talking to small craft brewers in the coming months to determine if any of them can be ready in time for the October grocery stores launch, said spokesperson Mark Barbour. (CBC)

Barbour has said he expects "mainstream" beer, such as Molson, Labatt and Moosehead, will hit grocery shelves first and locally produced craft beers will be phased in.

The beer will be in sold at the same grocery stores currently licensed to sell wine and cider, he said.

It will be sold as singles and in small packages only, he added.

Ready-to-drink products and an updated wine selection are also expected to be available at the grocery stores this fall, said Barbour.

NB Liquor started selling wine at a limited number of grocery stores in 2014 as a pilot project.

With files from Maritime Noon

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