Grocery industry looking for changes in ‘extremely restrictive’ liquor sale laws

Valley residents eager to pick up a six-pack or a bottle of pinot gris at the same time they’re buying their cheese and French bread at the grocery store, may soon see some action on that front.

According to Ralf Mundel, senior director of marketing and communications for Thrifty Foods, the grocery industry is pushing for better regulations than the ones just announced which he called "extremely restrictive".

Right now, big grocery stores must be a kilometre away from an established liquor outlet to be able to offer beer, wine and spirits in their stores. That shuts out every large grocery outlet in the Cowichan Valley, not just Thrifty’s.

"Of course we want to participate in liquor sales, wine, beer, spirits because they go so well with food and that whole amore that we try to deliver on at Thrifty Foods, how it fits so brilliantly," he said.

"However, in the past several weeks we’ve been looking diligently at these proposed amendments to the legislation in British

Columbia and it’s extremely restrictive [for] the people like ourselves who aren’t in the business right now."

So, the grocery industry, buoyed by the comfortable knowledge that the buying public wants to be able to buy liquor in their stores, is actively working on a solution.

"Remember it was customers who actually responded to all the surveys the government was putting forward in terms of where do they want to see these goods sold. It was customer driven, and so should it be," Mundel said.

"At this point, we’re saying to ourselves, we need to work with our other industry colleagues because we all want to do this but in the current construct our hands really aren’t as free to proceed as we probably would have hoped."

Are there plans to meet with government? "On behalf of the Retail Council of Canada, yes, but there is lots of other stuff in the works right now.

"Everyone is looking to us, as the largest grocery operator, and we have told the government we would love to have it there.

Mundel said he’s positive about the outcome as long as there are enough people speaking up.

Meanwhile, Suzanne Anton, B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said there’s still lots to talk about when it comes to grocery store liquor outlets.

"B.C.’s grocery model will be shaped by the market," she said.

The B.C. government has been responding to loud calls for the increased convenience that liquor in grocery stores could provide but, "It is premature to speculate about what the retail landscape will look like, once our grocery framework is finalized and implemented in early 2015. This is because policy work on

B.C.’s grocery model continues, as does work to clearly define what constitutes a ‘grocery store’," she said.

Several variables will be taken into consideration.

"First, and contrary to some media reports, a Licensee Retail Store located within one kilometre of a grocery store can, under certain circumstances, transfer or relocate its licence into a grocery store," Anton said.

"Second, we cannot predict what individual businesses and licensees will choose to do. When the five kilometre rule (the distance an LRS can relocate outside of its current jurisdiction) is eliminated, some liquor outlets may choose to relocate their licence to a different community, which would open up the possibility of another liquor store taking its place within a grocery store."

What this means is that, once the grocery model is finalized and in place, it will come down to business decisions all around.

"Even once our grocery framework is in place and implemented, we do not expect changes will happen overnight," the minister said.