Sudbury

Sudbury grocer abandons alcohol sales and industry association says it won't be the last

An industry association says a Sudbury grocery store likely won't be the last to give up on selling alcohol. The Real Canadian Superstore recently dropped beer and cider from its shelves, for reasons Loblaws has not disclosed.

Ontario government took in $486 million from alcohol sales in grocery stores last year

An industry association expects more Ontario grocery stores will follow the Real Canadian Superstore in Sudbury, which recently gave up on selling beer and cider. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

An industry association says a Sudbury grocery store likely won't be the last to give up on selling alcohol.

The Real Canadian Superstore on Lasalle Boulevard recently dropped beer and cider from its shelves, for reasons Loblaws has not disclosed.

It is one of 38 grocery stores in northern Ontario— including six each in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie and four each in North Bay and Timmins— and 450 across the province that have been allowed to sell alcohol under a program started by the previous Liberal government in 2015.

Gary Sands, a senior vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, says the competitive bidding process has left most stores with just a 1 or 2 per cent profit margin on alcohol sales.

"Continuing to sell this product at those margins is not sustainable," he said, adding that if that can of beer or bottle of wine is bought with a credit card, that profit margin would be erased by the interchange fee stores are charged.

"This product requires investments that aren't required in other [areas]. We don't have to have people trained on Smart Serve to ring a can of beans or a loaf of bread through the cashier."

Sands says he knows of few grocery stores that have abandoned alcohol sales however, because they fear losing customers to cross-town competitors.

"The current system picks winners and losers. And right now, those that have a license are winners. So they might be losing on the margin, but they still have a license, so there's a real reticence there to walk away," he said. 

Sands says his association is asking the Ontario government to open up alcohol sales to all grocery stores and give them a bigger cut of the profits. 

The LCBO reports that it took in $486 million in revenue from grocery store sales last year, up from $247 million in 2019, but still a fraction compared to the $5.9 billion in sales at LCBO retail outlets. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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