The Star’s view: Beer Store boycott has merit

About a month ago, Rino Bortolin stopped purchasing beverages at The Beer Store claiming the chain has a double standard at the cash register — one price for the general public and another for individuals like him who run bars and restaurants.

“Rino’s Kitchen … will be boycotting The Beer Store and only purchasing products through local, small craft breweries or stocking alternative products shelved at the LCBO,” Bortolin said.

Bortolin’s boycott is still underway, and he’s hoping others will get on board to protest what he calls a “blatantly unfair” practice of overcharging for popular brands — brands that just happen to be brewed by owners of The Beer Store, which has a virtual monopoly on beer sales in the province.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association agrees with Bortolin, Earlier this year, the CRFA told Ontario’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs its member were being “gouged” at The Beer Store.

A 24-pack of Molson Canadian or Coors Light, for example, costs the public $34.95 while a licensee pays $44.75. A 24-pack of Labatt Blue costs the public $29.95 and a licensee, $44.75.

And with few exceptions, the high markups apply mainly to brands produced by Molson Coors, Anheuser-Busch InBev (Labatt Brewing in Canada) and Sapporo (Sleeman Breweries) — the owners of The Beer Store.

“There’s no extra effort or anything else that justifies that (higher prices) — they just punch in a number and we take the beer,” said Bortolin.
Perhaps an argument could be made that some sort of markup is in order at

The Beer Store for bars and restaurants because the beer is going to be resold at a profit. But even that logic doesn’t hold because there’s no rhyme or reason to the way the markups are applied. Coors Light, Canadian and Budweiser are marked up almost 30 per cent, while for craft brewers like Mill Street and Muskoka, licensees tend to pay the same price as the general public.

For its part, The Beer Store — which operates 440 retail outlets across Ontario and deals with more than 16,000 licensed customers — essentially says “don’t blame us” for the discrepancies.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with prices,” says president Ted Moroz, pointing out that individual brewers set their prices through the LCBO. The Beer Store is then notified of price changes on a week-to-week basis.

LCBO communications consultant Lisa Murray confirmed in an interview with Toronto Life that brewers can basically set any prices they want.
“Beyond confirming that the price change requested is above the minimum price,” she says, “LCBO plays no role in setting these prices.”

The Beer Store can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim to be merely a “sales agent,” then direct complaints to the brewers. Not when the people who own The Beer Store are not only making some of the most popular brands sold there, but also deciding how high the markups will be.

Restaurateurs like Bortolin have a legitimate complaint.
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