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!

BC Supermarket Model Applies to 100% BC Wine

The BC Government issued a press release today indicating that its model for the sale of BC wine on regular supermarket shelves will apply to any wine made from 100% BC grapes, rather than be limited to VQA products. This model is scheduled for introduction on April 1st, 2015. The release indicates that existing VQA stores and independent wine stores may relocate to supermarkets, although there are likely to be no takers on the latter offer since a condition is that they limit sales to BC wines (IWS can currently sell all types of wine). Apparently, a "limited number" of new licenses will also be issued for supermarket sales.

The press release does not mention how the above model complies with Canada's international trade obligations. It is my view that this model is not compliant with NAFTA, GATT or the EU-Canada Agreement on wine sales.

Update on 2015 BC Wholesale Wine Pricing

(UPDATE: I am hearing that the following pricing model may be adjusted ... however, there has been no confirmation of that yet.) Here is a short summary of the proposed changes to wholesale pricing for BC set for April 1, 2015 with some new examples. Some information has been circulating that the price projections presented here earlier (Liquor Law Changes 2015) were "speculative" and that "end consumer prices would not change". I respond to those claims below.

On the first point, the price projections are estimates but they are not speculative in the sense that they are mere guesses. They were based on the pricing formula that has been publicly released and confirmed by the LDB. Any end consumer price projection that is based on wholesale pricing needs to assume a retail profit margin. These estimates were made assuming profit margins equivalent to the current 16% margin for LRS stores and the 30% margin for independent wine stores. The 16% margin is actually a very low assumed profit margin given that the declared operating costs for LDB retail stores are 17-18% and that Costco, probably the lowest margin retailer, works on 14%. As a result, please note that the low end price projections, in my view, are an absolute best case scenario. The price increases will likely be in the higher end of the range because most retailers would use a margin of greater than 16% (e.g. BC LDB stores would lose money at 16% because their operating costs exceed the margin).  

In respect of the latter issue, it is my view that it is not possible for end consumer prices to stay the same for medium to high priced wine using the new pricing formula (nearly all retailers that I have spoken to agreed with this conclusion).  The wholesale markup (liquor taxes) on medium to high priced wines will increase substantially for all wine above a wholesale cost of $8.81 per 750 ml bottle. Indeed, for some higher priced wines such as those listed below, the new BC wholesale price will actually exceed the current pre-tax retail price! It is not possible to increase wholesale prices substantially without having an effect on retail pricing.

The following examples provide cost comparisons for some relatively well-known high end wine products, showing a range of projected prices between the 16% and 30% retail margins:

Wine Current BC Retail Price  Current BC Wholesale Price New BC Wholesale Price  Current Alberta Wholesale Price  New BC Retail Price Range 
Veuve Cliquot Champagne  $69.99
(60.85 pre-tax)
$51.11$63.05 (+23%)$46.28$86.28 to $103.69
Dom Perignon Champagne$221.95
(192.99 pre-tax)
$162.11  $209.19 (+29%)$166.28$286.28 to $344.01
Cakebread Napa Cabernet$99.95
(86.90 pre-tax)
$73.00$91.86 (+26%)$59.50$125.71 to $151.06

And this table provide some cost comparisons for relatively well-known medium priced wines, again showing a range of projected prices between the 16% and 30% retail margins:

Wine Current BC Retail Price Current BC Wholesale Price New BC Wholesale Price Current Alberta Wholesale Price New BC Retail Price Range
Pirramimma Petit Verdot $29.99
($26.08 pre-tax)
$21.91 $24.58 (+12%) $18.15 $33.64 to $40.42
Crognolo (Tuscany Blend) $36.99
($32.17 pre-tax)
$27.02   $31.32 (+16%) $23.17 $42.86 to $51.51
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet   $44.99
($39.12 pre-tax)
$32.86 $39.02 (+19%) $27.75 $53.40 to $64.17
Tommasi Amarone $59.99
($52.17 pre-tax)
$43.82 $53.45 (+22%) $37.14 $73.15 to $87.90

In the chart above, note the substantial increases in wholesale prices for BC retailers, the fact that those wholesale prices are far higher than Alberta wholesale prices, and the substantial increase in end consumer pricing. As a result, there will likely be price increases at the high end of at least 25-30%, probably much more. I'll add some medium priced wine examples shortly.

BC Announces New Wholesale Price Model for Wine

(UPDATE: I am hearing that the following pricing model may be adjusted ... however, there has been no confirmation of that yet.The BC Government announced a new wholesale pricing model for wine today, which will become effective April 1, 2015. On the same day, BC will start limited supermarket liquor sales as well as introducing changes that are intended to "level the playing field" between government retail stores and private liquor retailers: press release on liquor changes is here.

The new wholesale pricing model will mean that all retailers (government and private) will pay the same wholesale price when they purchase liquor from the wholesale arm of the LDB. At the present time, private retailers pay different prices depending upon their license type. Government stores don't pay wholesale prices at all because their revenue is simply blended between their retail and wholesale divisions. Under the old model, the LDB applied a 117%/51% markup on wine to generate a fixed retail price which was used as a reference point for all retail sales. Under the new system, the LDB will apply an 89%/67% markup on wine to generate a wholesale price - retailers will then be free to set their own end retail prices once they add their own markups.  

See my Liquor Changes (2015) Chart for a first attempt at creating comparison pricing between the old system and new system.