捷克佳/很多人以为，安省各地的“啤酒专营店”(The Beer Store)如同LCBO一样是省府所拥有，但事实上，啤酒专营店是由安省最大的几个啤酒制造商Molson, Labatt和Sleeman共同拥有，它们分别隶属于大型的跨国公司。分析人士估计，这几间公司每年在加拿大获利10亿元，其中大部分在安省。安省啤酒价格高于魁省的原因之一是专营店的垄断销售。研究报告建议，安省应当开放啤酒经营市场，但省府则反对大规模的变更。
BAD BREW: Part I
The real reason your beer costs more than it should
Monopoly boosts prices, limits choice, critics say
Jul 05, 2008 04:30 AM
Imagine a store where most of the products are kept in the back.
You order from the cashier. The products can’t be sold below a legislated minimum price. And the overwhelming majority are made by one of three large companies, which also own the store.
In Ontario, that is how $2.5 billion worth of beer is sold each year.
Surprisingly, few consumers know this is the set-up.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, shoppers outside The Beer Store at Bayview and Eglinton were surprised to learn the government doesn’t own the store. Some said they’d like to see beer sold in corner stores, for convenience, and said they hope competition would lead to lower prices.
“I’d like to see the price of beer go down,” said Grant Skiffington, 57.
Six out of 10 people think The Beer Store is a government entity similar to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, according an independent survey for a review of the distribution and sale of alcohol in Ontario.
In reality, the retail chain responsible for just over 80 per cent of beer sales in Ontario “is essentially a private monopoly” owned by the province’s three largest brewers, Labatt, Molson and Sleeman, the provincial study noted.
The brewers, in turn, belong to some of the highest-grossing beer makers in the world – Belgium’s InBev SA, the United States’ Molson Coors Brewing Co. and Japan’s Sapporo.
Analysts estimate that these foreign entities earn a combined $1 billion a year in profits in Canada, mostly in Ontario, making the province one of the most lucrative beer markets in the world.
And Ontario’s beer consumers pay the freight, with higher prices, less choice and lack of convenience, the Beverage Alcohol System Review concluded three years ago.
The review recommended opening beer sales to competition. But Ontario’s government decided against sweeping changes.
So little has changed.
A 24-pack of popular brands, such as Coors Light, is regularly priced at $36.95 in Ontario, at least 25 per cent more than in such markets as Quebec and New York State, where beer is almost always on sale.
The brewers who own The Beer Store argue that taxes account for much of the difference in prices, and say the chain is one of the most efficient, environmentally friendly, socially responsible beer-marketing systems in the world.
Moreover, the brewers say they uphold the founding principles of what was originally a co-operative, ensuring access to all brewers and brands.
But many smaller brewers, restaurant operators and convenience store owners say that it’s time the province took a closer look at how beer is sold in Ontario.
In 1927, at the close of Prohibition, Brewers Warehousing Co. Ltd. was founded as a brewers’ co-operative.
The provincial government retained control of the sale of wine and spirits through the LCBO, but beer, with its lower alcohol content, could be distributed by the hundreds of mom-and-pop breweries.
Initially, the brewers were involved only in wholesale operations, jointly warehousing and distributing their product to stores operated by private contractors.
But in 1940, the brewers bought out the contractors and took over the stores, changing their name to Brewers Retail Inc. The stores were later renamed The Beer Store.
Along the way, Canada’s beer industry changed dramatically. Governments signed trade agreements in the 1990s that removed barriers to beer sales between provinces and countries. The Beer Store began selling imported beer, which the LCBO had carried for years. For a while, competition increased.
Successive waves of consolidation – in the 1950s and 1960s, then again in the 1990s – saw ownership of the beer industry shrink to the current handful of multinationals.
The Beer Store ended up in the hands of some of the world’s largest brewers. Government oversight dwindled to a handful of regulations related to public safety.
Beer prices soared.
“I can’t believe we let that go on,” says Chris Wilcox, general manager of Quickie Convenience Stores, based in Ottawa. “How does this province legislate two (or three) foreign-owned multinationals to run the manufacturing, distribution and the retail network for beer in this province? … That’s like telling Ford and General Motors, `You’re the only two companies that can sell cars in this province.'”
Convenience store operators have long wanted to take over beer and wine sales, partly to help offset declining sales of tobacco.
Restaurant, bar and hotel owners, would love to be able to sell booze for “off-premise” consumption.
“What we question is the total lack of transparency at The Beer Store. They are not beholden to anyone. There’s no real overseer,” says Syd Girling, strategic issues and research manager at the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association.
But successive governments have been loath to privatize sales of booze, fearing it could lead to more crime, drunkenness, underage drinking and other public ills.
BAD BREW: Part II
Cornering the beer market
Quebec’s corner-store beer sales translate into better deals than those in Ontario
Jul 05, 2008 04:30 AM
Every week, says Chris Wilcox, his neighbour in Ottawa drives over the bridge to Gatineau, Que., to buy a case of beer at the Costco warehouse.
Why? Because he can get 24 bottles of Coors Light, or any other popular premium brand, for just $28.20, including taxes and deposit. That’s a savings of nearly $9 a case over the regular price of the same brand in Ontario, or the equivalent of 25 per cent off.
Wilcox pays close attention to his neighbour’s beer-buying habits. As general manager of Quickie Convenience, which owns stores on both sides of the border, he’s intimately familiar with the differences in rules and regulations governing beer prices and sales.
In Quebec, his stores can sell beer and wine in competition with other retailers, such as Costco. In Ontario, that’s not allowed.
Instead, most beer in Ontario is sold through The Beer Store, a private company owned by the province’s three largest brewers, Labatt, Molson and Sleeman. They, in turn, belong to some of the biggest multinational beer makers in the world – Belgium’s InBev SA, America’s Molson Coors Brewing Co. and Japan’s Sapporo Brewing.
Together, they control a chain of stores that accounts for $2.5 billion in sales – or roughly 80 per cent of Ontario’s beer market.
In Wilcox’s view, that amounts to a privately owned, government-sanctioned near-monopoly over beer distribution in Ontario. And that, he says, is the main reason prices are higher in Ontario than Quebec, where the free market rules.
“We literally have blocks of cars driving over from Ontario to buy Quebec beer because it’s cheaper,” Wilcox says.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association has for years been lobbying the provincial government for the right to sell beer and wine in corner stores, saying it would be cheaper and more convenient for consumers. It would also help corner-store owners cope with sagging demand for tobacco and chocolate bars.
Ontario’s bar and restaurant owners also want a piece of that action, saying the current set-up leaves them at the mercy of their biggest suppliers.
“I get complaints constantly from our members that the price of Labatt Blue or Coors Light just went up. You never hear about them going down,” says Syd Girling, spokesperson for the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association. “The Beer Store is supposed to be non-profit. It’s supposed to be a co-operative. But when you have two major shareholders they can set the policies to their particular advantage.”
The Beer Store won’t, for example, ever offer bars and restaurants the same kind of long-weekend deals they sometimes offer ordinary consumers, such as cases of 28 beer for the price of 24. Nor will The Beer Store accept credit-card payments from licensees: “They say it’s too expensive for them. And why would they? We’re a captive market.”
Ontario’s small, innovative craft brewers say they, too, have issues with some of The Beer Store’s policies and practices.
The owners of The Beer Store, in Ontario, defend the chain, saying it’s one of the most efficient, socially responsible, environmentally friendly retailers in the world.
Prices are higher in Ontario because the province levies higher taxes on beer, according to the association that speaks for The Beer Store’s owners, and the market is highly competitive.
In Quebec, provincial commodity taxes are $3.47 per case, while in Ontario they add up to $5.99, notes Jeff Newton, president of the central and eastern division of Canada’s National Brewers, which represents the three companies that own The Beer Store. As well, in Quebec, the provincial sales tax on beer is just 7.5 per cent, whereas in Ontario it’s 12 per cent.
Despite this, prices in Ontario are competitive, says Newton. Many brands in Ontario sell for as little as $26.40, including taxes and deposit, he notes. These “value” brands (mainly Lakeport, which is now owned by Labatt) are not the same brands as the ones on sale in Quebec, Newton concedes, but they are proof the system works.
“I think it’s inappropriate and misleading to look at one pricing example on one brand. A brewer may sell certain brands in The Beer Store at $34.55 (plus deposit) but they also sell many other brands at or around $24 a case (plus deposit),” Newton explains.
“Given that Ontario’s tax rate is so much higher than Quebec’s, I continue to believe that it’s a reasonable position to say that The Beer Store’s low costs are an important factor in Ontario beer consumers having access to competitively priced beer.”
But Wilcox says the owners of The Beer Store just don’t want to give up control of a highly profitable market.
“It has nothing to do with taxes. It has to do with competition,” he says. “I can’t think of another government anywhere in the developed world that would lie down and give foreign-owned multinationals a retail monopoly.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, Ontario’s unusual approach to beer sales, the market for discount brands has exploded, now accounting for 40 per cent of all beer sales in the province.
At the same time, sales of beer through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which carries mainly small packs of imports and higher priced craft brands, has soared to 20 per cent of all beer sold in the province.
In some ways, the argument over who should get to sell beer in Ontario illustrates many of the anomalies in the present set-up.
The Beer Store is not really a retailer in the conventional sense of the word.
In fact, most consumers – six out of 10 – think it’s a government agency. And why wouldn’t they? As a retail experience it has very little in common with most stores.
The government regulates its hours of operation and locations. Beer can be sold only to people over a certain age, and they must be charged at least $24 a case, a legal minimum set to discourage excessive drinking.
And as a shopping experience goes, it’s efficient but relatively bland. At most locations, you go in the front door, walk up to the cashier, place your order, pay and leave. Hence its nickname, the In and Out store.
Most retailers would cringe to see customers spend so little time in their store. Indeed, most stores are designed to keep consumers shopping as long as possible, trying new products, doubling up on specials or succumbing to those high-margin items strategically placed at the cash register.
Ideally, once you leave you have nothing left to spend at a competitor’s shop down the road.
Behind the scenes, the retailer calls the shots, deciding which products to carry, whether to cut prices to boost sales, negotiating volume discounts from suppliers, all in hopes of making a profit based on the difference between its costs and the prices it charges.
That’s not how The Beer Store works. Due to its unique history and position in the marketplace, it runs on entirely different principles.
Every brewer in the province, whether an owner of The Beer Store or not, is guaranteed fair and equal access to its stores, Newton explains, a policy that has resulted in the chain representing 300 brands made by 75 suppliers.
Each brewer decides which stores in the chain should carry its brands. Each brewer decides what those stores will charge for its products. The price must be consistent across every store in the chain.
Each brewer pays the same “handling fee” to get on The Beer Store’s shelves. The handling fee is regulated. It was set at a certain level during free trade talks between Canada and the U.S. in the early 1990s, and is allowed to rise only as much as the rate of inflation.
The fee is currently $3.48 a case.
As for profits, The Beer Store doesn’t use that phrase. Newton says the stores operate on a “cost-recovery” basis, meaning the fees are supposed to cover its costs. When the fees exceed the costs, the store issues a rebate – but only to The Beer Store’s owners. If costs exceed the fees, the owners make up the difference.
No one knows when or if the owners get a rebate because the privately owned chain isn’t required to make that information public.
The system reflects The Beer Store’s roots as a brewers’ co-operative. Established after the end of Prohibition in 1927 to distribute beer in Ontario, it was originally owned by every small mom-and-pop brewer then in business.
Successive waves of industry consolidation reduced that ownership to a handful of very large players.
At the same time, free trade talks opened up Canada’s market to imports, and rising prices for beer created new markets for discount and specialty products.
Ownership of the store remained in very few hands.
Critics say the present set-up is a distortion of the original concept. While paying lip service to the store’s founding principles, The Beer Store’s owners have become increasingly secretive about its operations.
Meanwhile, critics say the company’s new multinational masters seem intent on making The Beer Store even more cost effective to operate – often at everyone else’s expense.
Who owns The Beer Store
Molson Coors owns 48.5%
World’s fifth-largest brewer
Headquarters: Denver, Montreal
World sales: $6.2 billion
Major brands: Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Molson Export, Rickard’s, Creemore Springs, Heineken, Corona, Miller Genuine Draft
InBev SA owns 48.5%
World’s second-largest brewer
Headquarters: Leuven (near Brussels)
World sales: $21.7 billion
Major brands: Labatt Blue, Stella Artois, beck’s, Brahma, Budweiser(licence), Alexander keith’s, Lakeport Pilsener
Sapporo owns 3%
Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
World sales: not available
Major brands: Sapporo, Sleeman
Total Beer sales in Ontario, 2007: $2.9 billion. Sales through The Beer Store: $2.5 billion. The rest is sold through LCBO stores and manufacturing outlets on brewers’ premises.
Source: Statistics Canada, company reports