BC Announces Supermarket Wine & Liquor Sales Rules

The BC Government has announced its initial rules regarding the sale of wine and liquor in supermarkets in this policy directive, Phased-In Implementation of Liquor in Grocery Stores, and this press release, Lottery Announced for Liquor Store Relocation. The rules and process are fairly complicated ... and the ability of a supermarket to sell various types of liquor or wine, and the way that they sell them, will depend upon the license type that they are able to obtain via relocation. A lottery process is being established for relocation applications since the relocation of LRS and GLS stores will be subject to the 1 km rule (newly extended to GLS stores). The relocation of VQA or IWS stores will not be subject to the 1 km rule and do not need to be part of the lottery. The current documents do not refer to the issuance of new licenses for supermarket sales which has been referred to previously by government. 

Analysis: BC's New Wholesale Pricing Formula

As has been widely reported in the mainstream media, the BC Government has revised its previously announced wholesale pricing formula (which would have significantly increased the prices for all wine over about $15 - see previous story) and replaced it with a new formula which is intended to "align" end consumer retail prices with what they are today (see press release: Minister's Statement on Wholesale Wine Prices for Industry). The announced change was a reduction in the second tier "liquor board markup" from 67% under the old formula to 27% under the new one ... a significant change of 40 percentage points.

I have now analyzed the formulas and provide both wholesale and retail price comparisons in the following PDFs for wine at various price points under both the old and new systems: Price Comparisons $7-$12; Price Comparisons $15-$25 and Price Comparisons $30-$70. There are some interesting issues that arise from the comparisons.

Wholesale Prices for LRS Stores. If wholesale prices for wine are compared for LRS private retail stores under the old and new systems, it is apparent that wholesale prices will go down for all wine that currently retails for less than about $15 (see the PDFs for examples). In contrast, wholesale prices will go up slightly for wine that currently retails for $20 or more. 

Wholesale Prices for IWS Stores and Government Stores. Wholesale prices will go up significantly for all independent wine stores as they will now be paying the same wholesale prices as LRS stores (i.e. effectively losing the additional wholesale pricing discount that they previously had). Government liquor stores previously did not pay wholesale prices at all. Under the new system, they will purchase at the same wholesale prices as both LRS and IWS private stores.

Retail Profit Margins for LRS Stores. Under the old system, the LRS wholesale discount was 16% off government store retail prices. This meant that if an LRS matched government store prices, its profit margin was 16%. However, this is a very thin margin for the retail business and most LRS stores chose to retail for higher than government store prices to create a healthier margin. Under the new system, the margin will be better for LRS stores for wines currently retailing for less than about $15. At the very bottom end of the price spectrum, margins increase to about 21-22% (based on current government store pricing). However, for wines that currently sell for about $20 and above, the retail profit margin is slightly reduced to between 15-16%. As noted this is a very thin margin. Grocery stores usually run on something in the 30% plus range. Most normal retailers run somewhere in the 40% plus range.  Costco (likely the most efficient retailer in North America) runs on a 14% margin.

Retail Profit Margins for IWS Stores and Government Stores. IWS Stores previously had a 30% margin if they matched government store prices. Under the new system, their margin will be cut significantly to the numbers noted above for LRS stores. Government stores will also have to run on these same profit margins which would appear difficult as the declared operating costs for government retail stores are 17-18% (i.e. the operating costs of the stores may exceed the profit margin).

Predicted Effects on Retail Prices in LRS Stores. It is possible that the least expensive wine may get cheaper under the new system as wholesale prices go down somewhat for LRS stores at the lower end of the price spectrum. However, for wines above $20, wholesale prices increase slightly ... so it may well be that pricing in LRS stores will not change much as stores seek to balance their profit margins across the price spectrum.

Predicted Effects on Retail Prices in IWS Stores and Government Stores. IWS Stores will have to raise their prices as their wholesale prices will go up significantly for every price point. The Government has indicated that end consumer prices in Government Stores will stay the same. However, for this to be achieved, the government stores would have to stick to a margin of 15-16% for wines above about $20. As noted above, this margin is below their declared operating costs and it would mean that the stores would lose money on these sales. It is possible that Government Stores may seek to shift their product mix to lower price points in order to create sustainable margins.

Restaurants/Bars/Hotels. Despite being some of the largest wholesale liquor customers in BC, restaurants/bars/hotels continue to be denied wholesale pricing. These "hospitality" customers still have to pay full retail prices and are restricted in terms of whom they can purchase from (government liquor stores and approved BC manufacturers such as wineries). The lack of a wholesale discount puts the hospitality industry at a competitive disadvantage as compared to our neighbours in Alberta and Washington state.

Move to Pre-Tax Pricing. Government stores have announced that they will change their shelf pricing to pre-tax pricing. It remains to be seen whether LRS and IWS stores will follow suit ... although it would seem likely since this is the standard form of pricing for other retail sectors and there may be a "psychological" advantage to lower pre-tax shelf prices.

DTC Progress in Nova Scotia; BC Moves to Pre-Tax Pricing

Two pieces of news today, both of which are good for DTC winery sales ...

Firstly, the Nova Scotia government has sent out a message to stakeholders indicating that it will proceed with its previously announced plans to permit inter-provincial DTC shipment of wine to consumers in that province. The responsible Minister noted that the most frequent comment during a consultation process was that Nova Scotia should "be a leader by adopting regulations to allow direct to consumer shipping of wine and encouraging other Canadian provinces to reduce interprovincial importation restrictions to help create an open Canadian market". The applicable legal changes are expected this year.

Secondly, in British Columbia, the LDB has announced that it will switch on April 1st from "tax included" shelf prices to pre-tax shelf pricing in all government liquor stores. Up until now, it had become the standard for all liquor retailers including wineries to also use "tax included" pricing. A switch to pre-tax pricing will be beneficial for winery DTC sales because the sales taxes on a DTC sale will vary depending upon the destination ... and it was previously confusing for out-of-province customers to see web site pricing that included BC sales taxes.

Saskatchewan Considers Options for Liquor Retail Reform

The Saskatchewan government is in the midst of a consultation process to determine the future of its liquor retail system (which is currently mostly a government retail system with a policy of opening only new private stores). A web site has been set up that asks for citizen input (Liquor Retailing in Saskatchewan) and a number of options have been set out for the future (Future of Liquor Retailing). This PDF sets out the full history, analysis and options: Green Paper- Liquor Retailing. The options section is particularly interesting given the current proposed changes to BC's liquor retail system.

Conference to Explain BC Wine and Liquor System Changes

The 6th annual BC Wine & Liquor Law Conference is set for February 23rd in Vancouver, BC. This is an exciting year for the conference because a raft of significant changes to BC's wine and liquor policies are scheduled to come into effect shortly. We will provide an update on these changes including detailed discussion of upcoming reforms to BC's retail environment, wholesale pricing structure and distribution system, all of which are planned for April 1st. We'll also discuss developments in the branding and marketing sector as well as issues related to succession planning for wineries. New for this year, we have also included a panel on issues related to raising capital. Full schedule and registration information for the conference is here: BC Wine & Liquor Law Conference 2015.

Please note that those employed in the wine and liquor industry are eligible for a significant discount in the conference fee - a reduction from $645 USD to $300 USD. The conference always sells out so please register early!