Like the US, Canada has seen a significant increase in the number of craft breweries operating in the nation. Also like the US, Canadian craft brewers have run into some serious hurdles that must be overcome. Here in the US, one of the most problematic issues are outdated alcohol laws. In Canada, the biggest stumbling block is the beer retail industry. A single major chain of stores controls the Ontario beer market. Would you be surprised to know that Molson Coors, Anheuser-Busch and Sapporo Holdings jointly own the chain?
The three giant brewers account for almost 90% of beer sales in Ontario and the Beer Store network is responsible for a significant portion of that. With the three major breweries having a stranglehold here, it can be very hard for small brewers to gain a foothold in the market. Other areas of Canada are not as hard hit by the big boys but craft brewers in Ontario have an uphill fight on their hands. Some of them are not taking it lying down and that is a good thing.
30 craft brewers have formed ranks to create the Ontario Craft Brewers organization which is fighting to help small breweries gain a foothold in the Ontario area. Currently, the Ontario Craft Brewers is doing things outside the court system, but if things do not change they will begin lobbying the area’s government representatives for legal even footing.
One way that a more even playing field could be created is if the Beer Store network was remodeled, literally. Currently, most of these stores allow their customers to place an order at the counter for beer listed on a menu rather than allowing customers to pick up their own purchases. In the remainder of the stores, customers can choose their own beer from pallets but the amount of beer on display is disproportionate. Craft brews have almost no floor space at all while giants like Molson Coors have an immense amount of space allocated to them. For things to change for the better, the Ontario Craft Brewers organization is fighting for more floor space and more prominent billing on beer menus throughout all Beer Stores in Ontario.
If Ontario craft brewers are to be successful, something must be changed in the system. Something has to give way, but the major breweries are not willing to do much at the moment and the Beer Store chain seems fine with the status quo. Legal lobbying might be the only solution.