Opinion

Get Ready for Hard-to-Swallow Supermarket Booze Prices

BC Libs' changes will simply increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.

By Bill Tieleman 18 Mar 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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BC Libs' changes will simply increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.

"There are only two real ways to get ahead today -- sell liquor or drink it." -- W.C. Fields, comedian, 1880-1946

Beer, wine and spirits are coming to British Columbia supermarkets next year, but don't expect cheaper booze -- if anything, what is already among North America's highest-priced alcohol will only get more expensive.

Consumers say they would love the convenience of supermarket sales, but that thrill may be gone when prices stay the same or likely go higher than in B.C. government liquor stores.

The reality of BC Liberal changes is to make booze easier to access, but prices harder to swallow.

So forget about B.C. becoming like Washington State or Europe, with giant supermarket chains offering deep discounts on your favourite beverage.

The government's real goal is simply to increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.

The only way most prices could actually drop is if government reduced its $1-billion annual booze profits -- and that ain't gonna happen.

And since most B.C. private liquor stores already charge $2, $3 or much more per bottle of wine, spirits or a case of beer than government rates, without a wholesale price drop retail prices will stay sky high.

In fact, there is nothing in the B.C. liquor review that gives even faint hope to thirsty drinkers of any cut to the high cost of quaffing.

Booze costs already too damn high

There are two models for sales in grocery stores. The main one is called a "store within a store," where supermarkets will have a liquor sales area separated from grocery products and minors.

In addition, some B.C. VQA-certified wines will be made available at some point directly on grocery store shelves without the separate store model, though details aren't yet clear.

When this column did a price comparison of wine and beer prices in 2012, the gap between B.C. prices and other jurisdictions was stunning.

And it still is.

One example: the widely distributed Perrin Cote Du Rhone Reserve red wine sells for $17.95 a bottle in B.C. Liquor Stores, but $16.50 in Quebec government liquor stores, $15.95 in Ontario, only $13 in a private Alberta store if you buy a case of 12, and just $11.10 Canadian at Binny's in Chicago -- or $10.54 a bottle if you buy a case!

And while occasionally a B.C. bottle can be had cheaper, overall any online search will find wine, beer and spirits here are very pricey in both public and private stores.

So, government "modernizes" liquor laws, booze arrives in grocery stores, and yet the prices will only go up, not down.

Drink that irony in.  [Tyee]

Read more: Food, BC Politics,

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