Cider maker says AGCO rule could put him out of business

Pete Rainville says a restrictive regulation requiring cider manufacturers to own a certain-sized orchard could put his Spencerville, Ont., cidery out of business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restrictions around orchard size don't have parallels in beer industry

Peter Rainville, creator of Flying Canoe Hard Cider, says an AGCO rule preventing his company from selling directly to consumers could put him out of business during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted/Pete Rainville)

Peter Rainville says his business was doing great until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Rainville runs the Flying Canoe cidery in Spencerville, Ont., just outside Ottawa, and said he used to sell between 200 to 250 cases of cider per week to restaurants, grocery stores and the LCBO.

Now, he's lucky to ship 20.

"The pipeline is rather full at this point," said Rainville. "To keep moving forward we need to find other revenue streams in order to sell our product."

While many businesses have changed the way they work over the past few weeks to adapt to the new business environment — some shifting to delivery and takeout, others doing more online sales — Rainville said a single government rule is standing in his way.

If a brewery can sell beer from its facility and they don't have to have five acres of barley or hops ... then why should I have to have five acres of apple orchard?- Pete Rainville, Owner of Flying Canoe Hard Cider

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario's (AGCO) "five-acre rule" states that a cider manufacturer must own an orchard that's at least that size, and also use fruit from that orchard to make its product, in order to sell directly to consumers via a retail storefront or to ship products across Ontario.

Rainville, who uses apples from Smyth's Apple Orchard in Dundela, Ont., said because he doesn't meet the criteria, his cidery may be forced to close.

No different from breweries, wineries

"If a brewery can sell beer from its facility and they don't have to have five acres of barley or hops, and a distillery can sell products from their facility ... and they don't have to have five acres of grains, then why should I have to have five acres of apple orchard?" said Rainville.

The AGCO made changes to regulations March 26 temporarily allowing restaurants to sell alcohol with takeout and delivery orders. Rainville wondered why a similar exception can't be made for his business, which has lost 75 per cent of its revenue and has had to lay off its only other employee.

"That was something that was positive and great news for those restaurants that are struggling," said Rainville. "However, that hasn't translated into revenue for us."

AGCO aware of issue

AGCO spokesperson Raymond Kahnert said the agency knows some wineries, distilleries and breweries wish to sell their products through retail channels not currently available to them.

"The AGCO would need to consult with relevant ministries of government along with key stakeholder groups, many of whom we know support the policy, in order to assess the possibility of any changes to the policy," Kahnert said.

"The AGCO is noting all stakeholder feedback and is looking into ways to help businesses during these challenging times."

With files from Stephen Hoff and Hallie Cotnam

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