Beer, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails to be sold at Ontario corner stores this fall. What you need to know

The Ford government will spend $225 million to fast-track its plan to get beer, wine & ready-made cocktails into corner stores. As Tina Yazdani reports, it marks a major change to the alcohol market in Ontario.

By Richard Southern, Lucas Casaletto

Beer, wine, and ready-to-drink cocktails are coming to Ontario convenience stores later this summer, well ahead of schedule, with The Beer Store being paid $225 million in public funds.

Premier Doug Ford and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy held a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on Friday in Etobicoke to announce that the province is dramatically speeding up the push to liberalize alcohol sales in Ontario.

Starting in August, consumers will be able to purchase products like coolers and what the province labelled as “other ready-to-drink beverages” alongside more pack sizes at grocery stores that currently sell wine or beer, followed by new retailers being able to sell an increased selection of local, domestic and international alcohol products.

By the end of October, convenience stores, supermarkets, and gas stations that are fully licensed to do so will be able to sell beer, wine, and ready-to-drink cocktails, well ahead of the previously slated date of early 2026.

“People are excited they’re going to enjoy the same choice and convenience as other Canadians and other people right across the world to buy a case of beer or a bottle of wine on the way up to the cottage,” Ford said at an announcement Friday.

“Or maybe you’re going to start up the grill in the backyard or (have a) summer barbecue. They’re excited to hear that they’re finally being treated as adults.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will be responsible for licensing retailers, and the government says the expansion will come with stronger penalties for infractions. Retailers whose licences are revoked won’t be able to reapply for two years.

Timeline of alcohol sales

August 1, 2024: Up to 450 province-wide grocery stores that are currently licensed to sell beer, cider or wine will be able to sell ready-to-drink beverages. Additionally, these locations can offer “large-pack sizes” (30-pack).

After September 5, 2024: All eligible province-wide convenience stores can sell beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages.

After October 31, 2024: All eligible province-wide grocery and big-box stores can sell beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink beverages, including in large pack sizes. 

The Beer Store’s role

Ontario’s government also announced that The Beer Store will be paid $225 million of taxpayer dollars to keep locations open, facilitate recycling and bottle return, and further support the private brewer-owned entity as Ontario shifts to the new model of selling alcohol.

Ford disputed a characterization that the money is going to the companies that jointly own The Beer Store, though the agreement specifies “the province shall reimburse TBS” for added costs up to that amount.

“We aren’t giving them to the Molsons of the world and the Labatts, that they put the money in their pocket and say, ‘See you later,'” Ford said.

“So that’s not accurate. What we’re doing, we’re supporting the front-line workers at The Beer Store … we’re going to be audited every step of the way, to make sure that it’s being distributed in the right fashion.”

The government added that the funds will also protect jobs across the province and keep The Beer Store locations open for “the continued availability of recycling and bottle returns.” 

Part of the new agreement with The Beer Store includes keeping at least 386 stores open until July 2025 and at least 300 until Dec. 31, 2025.

A woman exits The Beer Store at an undisclosed Ontario location. Photo: Flickr.

Roy Benin, CEO of The Beer Store, said the provincial government’s decision to expand further acknowledges the alcohol retailer’s role as the primary distributor of beer in Ontario.

“With today’s announcement, we look forward to the next stage in The Beer Store’s evolution,” Benin said as part of a press release. “The Beer Store will be transformed, where our role as primary distributor and recycling steward takes center stage while maintaining a competitive retail footprint.”

In a previous announcement on Dec. 13, 2023, Ford said that up to 8,500 new stores will be allowed to sell alcohol. However, they will have to adhere to rules laid out by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGO), which says that retailers can only sell alcohol between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario will still be the only place to buy high-alcohol spirits, and it will remain a wholesaler. Retailers will get an interim wholesale discount of 10 per cent from the LCBO basic retail price until 2026.

Coalition calling for alcohol-related harm strategy

The government is putting an additional $10 million over five years to support social responsibility, but a coalition of public health and advocacy organizations have called on the province to develop a comprehensive alcohol strategy for reducing harm.

The coalition, which includes the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Cancer Society, has said alcohol-related harms cost Ontario more than $7 billion annually, and the last time access to alcohol was expanded in the province, the number of emergency department visits related to alcohol grew.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto said it was disappointed with the news of the early rollout.

“There are already more than 6,000 alcohol-attributable deaths a year in Ontario, and the changes announced today will significantly increase this number,” it wrote in a statement.

“The main driver of alcohol-related harm is convenience. Decades of research show that increased ease of access leads to more consumption and, in turn, more harm.”

The Canadian Public Health Association expresses concern and disapproval regarding the expansion of alcohol sales in the province.

“This decision is alarming in light of the extensive evidence on the public health risks associated with increased alcohol availability. It comes from a Premier who made light of those risks in his ‘buck-a-beer’ election campaign, and who has consistently favoured the interests of the alcohol, vaping, and convenience store industries over the health and well-being of Ontarians,” the group said in a statement.

Ford denied that any lobbying was a factor in his decision to speed up the alcohol expansion.

“I don’t care who’s trying to lobby,” he said. “It’s been going on for decades. They can’t lobby me. I don’t give two hoots about them.”

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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