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At long last, good news for Ontario craft cider producers: Coming to a grocery store near you soon

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Ontario craft ciders are about to enjoy their moment in the sun as part of the province’s upcoming announcement to allow wine sales in grocery stores as early as this fall.

Wines In Niagara has learned that craft cider is to be included in the grocery store plan alongside VQA wine in 70 supermarkets across that number will grow to 150 new outlets following that. (Read the full story on grocery store sales here.

Ontario’s privatization czar, Ed Clark, gave cabinet ministers a briefing Wednesday on his final proposals — spelling out the balancing act between rising consumer demand for wine in grocery stores and industry fears of liberalized sales.


The plan calls for an initial granting of 70 grocery store licences to sell wine by the fall of this year. Half of those would be granted to sell only 100% VQA wines, according to a wine industry source who spoke to Wines In Niagara and asked for anonymity.

The other 35 licences would be approved for stores to sell 50% foreign wines and 50% VQA, wines with 20% of that reserved for “smaller VQA wineries.”

occa-logojpegLast June, Ontario’s craft cider makers paid a visit to Ed Clark to plead their case for greater access to their products and level playing field in terms of how they are taxed.

“We’re just like craft beer when it got started,” Thomas Wilson of the Ontario Craft Cider Association said at a news conference in June as cider makers flooded Queen’s Park to press their case with MPPs.

The association, which represents 22 cideries employing more than 200 workers, wanted to press their case following the province’s announcement for selling beer in grocery stores in April. Cider was not included in the beer plan.

“We want to make sure we’re not forgotten,” added Wilson, who owns Spirit Tree cidery in Caledon and also wants more space for Ontario ciders on LCBO shelves.

The association projects sales of Ontario cider will reach $35 million a year by 2018, with employment in the sector increasing to 350 jobs and cideries buying 10 per cent of all apples grown in the province.

In a statement at the time, Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s office acknowledged demand for cider has “grown exponentially over the last few years” and said he is waiting for more recommendations from the Clark panel, including on sales of cider and spirits.

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According to sources, Ontario will not only get space in grocery stores alongside wine but they will also be allowed to sell cider at farmers markets, another bone of contention, and will get dedicated shelf space at the LCBO. As it is now, Ontario craft cider is lumped with an array of foreign-made, mass-produced ciders made primarily from juice concentrate.

The cider announcement could come as early as Wednesday, according to sources.


The LCBO is also going to allow cideries to ship their products alongside beer, a small, but important step that currently makes it illegal for a cidery in, say, Prince Edward County, to deliver their product to Toronto in another truck carrying beer to the same destination. The silly rule meant astronomical costs for delivering cider only.

Grant Howes (very top photo), owner of The County Cider Company in Prince Edward County, and acknowledged in the industry as the “godfather” of cider in Ontario, is “extremely pleased” and “very optimistic” for the future of craft cider in Ontario but still has concerns for the fastest-growing alcohol beverage segment in the province.

“The success of these changes will of course depend on the reduction of the very high LCBO fees charged on Ontario cider,” he told Wines In Niagara. “If the fee structure and direct delivery system still contain crippling mark ups, any changes in distribution won’t matter.

“The ‘Tap Ceiling’ imposed by LCBO policy when craft producers sell into bars and restaurants will continue to cripple the growth of an Ontario agricultural industry which has the potential to be a global disrupter in the cider category.”