By Rick VanSickle
When COVID-19 stole his job in the Ontario hospitality industry, then his wife’s job within two days of each other, Greg Lamb didn’t flinch — even when the couple discovered they were going to have baby.
Lamb had a simmering plan to start a business, a long-held dream to offer consumers one-stop online shopping for local wine, beer and ciders delivered right to your front door in one package.
He launched the new company, Ontario Beverages, in mid-October with five Niagara wineries, a cidery and a GTA brewery, including Megalomaniac, Kacaba, Featherstone, Calamus, Leaning Post, Sunnybrook and High Road Brewing Company.
“What makes OnBev unique is the fact that you can shop across many different producers and across wine, beer and cider and receive everything in one shipment with one shipping fee,” says Lamb, above. “I’m really focused on making it feel as if you’re pulling a bottle off the shelf and putting it in your cart. No minimums, no set packages, just buy whatever you want. As we grow I look forward to representing a majority of the Ontario craft alcohol industry and bringing all of those great producers into one easy to use forum.”
Lamb has been in the Ontario hospitality industry for over 15 years in a range of positions. When he lost his job due to the pandemic like so many in his line of work, Lamb found himself with the time to work on his “dream project” of building an online marketplace for Ontario produced wine, beer and cider.
“Despite losing my job, my wife losing her job, and finding out we were expecting all in a span of two days, I went to work and now we’re in the first phase of the launch,” he told Wines In Niagara.
Lamb says there was a need for a business such as OnBev. “Ontario has a very bad system for getting its products in the hands of its people,” he says. “The LCBO focuses predominantly on wines that sell for $15-$20 with high volume and little intrigue. The LCBO markups force the producers to accept a high volume and extremely small margin situation.”
Lamb says the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGAO) also prevents any real private stores from existing. “It’s almost as though the LCBO, through manipulated market forces, is forcing the wine industry’s hand toward mediocrity,” he says. “But winemakers will never accept mediocrity. If you want some wines that are outside of the LCBO’s generic selection you have to go directly to the producers. When you’re buying online, typically you have to deal with minimum purchases or restricted delivery zones or both.”
He says that prevents people from actually shopping, along with the fact that you have to go to each producer’s website individually. “Even if you don’t mind making several purchases from several different sites, now you have several different shipments on the way and several shipping fees,” he notes. “Now apply all of that to beer and cider as well and I saw a big opportunity to bring the industry together.”
Lamb’s new online marketplace allows consumers to buy directly from the producer “while I maintain a certain look and feel to the marketplace and organize how the product gets to the consumer, he says. “I’ve found a shipping partner in ALM Crown that allows me to get into their process. The end result is that orders through the website accumulate throughout the week, and at the end of the week, I send out a summarized order to each producer for everything that has been purchased from them. ALM Crown picks up these weekly orders in one shot, and brings them back to a fulfillment centre and OnBev picks and packs everything into individual orders and ships them out. It’s in this way that the consumer can buy wine, beer and cider across as many producers as they like and receive everything in one easy delivery.
“The ultimate goal of OnBev is to incorporate the majority of the Ontario craft alcohol industry and to reach all major regions with our pick-up process,” he says. “When Ontarians think of quality wine, beer or cider, I want them to think of Ontario. I’ve seen with my own eyes the ironic lectures about the importance of “buying local” or “made in Canada” while the lecturer sips an Argentinian Malbec or Stella Artois. We have an incredible industry and we should be celebrating it every day.”