Ontario wineries jumped headfirst into the election today with a multi-pronged campaign that urges candidates running for provincial office to fight for changes that would give consumers more access to the wines they love.
Led by the Ontario Wine Council, the campaign called “Pairs Perfectly,” is designed to give consumers a voice in this election, a voice that speaks loudly for another avenue to purchase wines through private stores in Ontario.
“Consumers have matured beyond government in many ways,” says Hillary Dawson, president of the Wine Council of Ontario, which represents the majority of wineries in Ontario. “They certainly know that it’s time for Ontario to stop retrenching in the status quo, but they also know how they feel about where wine is sold. Our campaign will give consumers voice to the kind of change that is appropriate for our province.”
The campaign features its website Pairs Perfectly and will be supported by radio advertising across the province for the next four weeks with the first ad launching this week. It is expected that the campaign will have a large presence on Twitter as well through the @pairsperfectly voice.
“Consumers have been clear with us. They know that change is coming, but they are very certain on how they want it to come,” noted Dawson. “Change should be in a way that is complimentary to the LCBO and we agree. Change should also allow these same consumers the opportunity to have additional selection and shopping experiences in the way that they have experienced them in other provinces.”
The Pairs Perfectly website highlights a path forward for change and will be an important contrast for voters who, to date, have only been confronted by the two extremes of the status quo and those at the other end of the spectrum as put forth by the convenience store lobby.
“Why this option is important is because it is one that truly embraces the principles that the consumer wants — they want a range of shopping experiences in addition to those at the LCBO, delivered in a socially responsible way, and in a way that allows the government and the LCBO to grow its contribution to the economy without building more stores,” added Dawson. “We look forward to encouraging the consumer’s voice to be heard in this election.”
In an interview, Dawson called this a “once in a generation opportunity. It’s the perfect debate for us to have at this time.”
Dawson said she has the full support of wine council members, which represents the majority of wineries in Ontario, to see this campaign through to its ultimate goal: To make partial privatization of retail wine stores an option on the table and “under full consideration when whatever party gets elected to Queen’s Park.”
What’s unique about the wine council’s proposal is the fact that it is not campaigning for 100% VQA stores, but private wine shops that can include wines from around the world or whatever the retailer wants to stock the shelves with. The retailer decides what he/she wants to sell.
“We know that local is very important,” says Dawson. “We will enjoy the success we have. But we would have the opportunity to secure a more robust (retail) channel.”
Dawson says it’s high time Ontario modernized its monopoly to keep up with other provinces that have already embraced a similar model. In B.C., Manitoba and Nova Scotia, private wine shops work alongside government liquor stores, increasing revenues and providing a substantial boost to local wineries. In Alberta, all stores and liquor retail is privately owned and run while the government there sits back and rakes in taxes from the sales.
In B.C., private stores far out-number government stores by nearly three to one.
But various Ontario governments have resisted the pressure to allow any secondary retail in the province aside from the “grandfathered” licences granted to Peller, Constellation Brands and a few other Ontario wineries, which have enjoyed a virtual monopoly on private wine shops.
There has been growing unrest from consumers to allow some sort of modernization of liquor laws in the province and the most recent government, led by Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne, left, has responded with stopgap measures including sales of VQA wines at farmers’ markets and LCBO kiosks in some grocery stores.
Dawson calls those changes relatively small gestures that really don’t move the industry further along as wineries continue to grow and produce more and more wine. The LCBO has only so much shelf space.
“The LCBO is not for everybody,” Dawson says. “Private stores aren’t for everybody and farmers’ markets aren’t for everybody. Let’s talk about this sweet spot, the middle ground for consumers.
“They want change, people really feel we’re still in the Prohibition era here in Ontario.”
The campaign will be front and centre during the election and Dawson and her team will continue to lobby whatever government gets elected in four weeks.
It’s an interactive campaign that needs support from wine lovers to be successful.
You can check out the website and twitter feed (use the hashtags #onpoli #voteon #pairsperfectly #ontwine) and follow the Wine Council facebook page.
• Pairs Perfectly is a new online initiative from the Wine Council of Ontario aimed at increasing the public profile and awareness for private wine shops. Consumers have said that they are the most responsible option to increase consumer access to the quality wine they love.
• The online initiative allows the consumer to sign up, connect automatically with provincial election candidates from all parties and to share their views that they would like to see increased choice with private wine shops in this province.
• This campaign focuses on the consumer and how they will benefit from this additional retail experience, complementary to the LCBO that they enjoy now.
• The issue of wine and liquor sales is a vote-driver. Consumers will want to know the views of their candidates on this issue as they head to the polls on June 12.
• The private wine shop model the Wine Council is promoting has been shown to work in other parts of Canada already. Ontarians want the same choices other Canadians already enjoy.
• This approach reflects a middle ground option between the entrenched extremes in the debate now — the status quo (as supported by the Beer Store and LCBO) and the convenience store lobby.
HOW DO PRIVATE STORES WORK?
• Private wine shops would be dedicated solely to the sale of quality wines, both from overseas and at home — including the 90% of Ontario wines that currently go unstocked on LCBO shelves.
• This model is complementary to the LCBO. The LCBO would operate side by side with private wine shops. This model has shown great success in places like B.C., which saw increased selection and convenience for B.C. wine drinkers.
• The LCBO would receive revenue from wholesaling wine to the private wine shops similar to what they currently do with Ontario restaurants. This revenue comes without the expense of building new stores.
• Private wine shops would be located anywhere enterprising Ontarians decide the market is underserved. In cottage country. In rural communities. Finally, in neighbourhoods where you could walk to get a nice bottle for dinner.
• Licenses for these shops would be awarded much like restaurants are currently, with strict controls, fines and inspections to avoid sale to minors. What’s more, private wine shops would be adult-only areas because those below the age of majority would have no reason to be there unless accompanying a parent.
FOUR MAIN REASONS CONSUMERS
SUPPORT PRIVATE WINE SHOPS
• Choice: Private wine shops will give adult consumers new choice and increased convenience. Consumers know that they only have access to a fraction of the products available around the world. They have experiences that have shown them that there are ways to have more and they are interested.
• Jobs and Growth: According to independent industry studies, private wine shops have the potential to create 5,000 new jobs and an incremental billion dollars in economic growth revenue to the province and communities across Ontario. Consumers appreciate the opportunity for government monies to be reallocated from building stores to building hospitals
• Social Responsibility: Private wine stores offer a responsible alternative to selling alcohol out of corner stores — where it will be practically impossible to guard against sales to teens.
• It Works: This model has been shown to work in other parts of Canada already. In B.C., Manitoba and Nova Scotia, private wine shops work alongside government liquor stores, increasing revenues and providing a substantial boost to local wineries.