Council supportive of grocery store wine sales

City Council to write letter to provincial government advocating for special license that will allow grocery stores to sell B.C. wine.

City council is hoping to get one of six special wine store licenses into a grocery store in Cranbrook that will sell 100 per cent B.C. wine on store shelves.

Raised by Councillor Wes Graham and Tom Shypitka at a regular meeting on Monday, city council agreed to send a letter to Coralee Oakes, the minister of small business and red tape reduction, to lobby for one of the special licenses.

“It’s a great initiative, but it seems a little uncertain that there isn’t regional representation on the lottery in these things. On the coast and in the larger areas, you have specialty shop niches, where in the rural areas, as Wes Graham said, it’s a little hard to come by.

So a letter to Minister Oakes would be good to see if there’s any kind of way that we can ensure that maybe one of these licenses comes to the Kootenays or maybe somehow reform their distribution method.

Council received a letter from Oakes in late February explaining the new initiative.

“Initially, we will auction six opportunities to apply for the special wine store license, an approach which will ensure fairness and transparency,” wrote Oakes. “The successful bidders will then proceed through the regular application process to obtain the license.

Only grocery stores which meet the specified regulatory criteria will be eligible to bid. These criteria include that the store be a minimum of 10,000 sq. feet and be focused on food sales; these same criteria apply to the relocation of the other types of wine and liquor stores to grocery stores.”

Under a 2013 review of liquor policy, the B.C. government made some changes including permitting 21 licensed VQA (Vinters Quality Alliance) wine stores to relocate to grocery stores to sell their win on grocery store shelves, permitting full service licensee retail stores and government liquor stores to relocate to grocery stores to operate as a store within a store.

According to Oakes’ letter, government has a one-kilometre rule in place for a licensee retail or government liquor store, which is intended to provide a degree of market certainty for the owners.

Oakes argues that issuing special licenses for wine stores won’t have a significant impact impact as B.C. wine only accounts for 26 per cent of the total wine sales and nine per cent of all liquor sales in the province. Much of the B.C. wine sales are made from the winery or sold directly by them to restaurants and bars.

“We understand concerns have been expressed about the retailing practices of grocery stores in jurisdictions where liquor is sold in grocer stores, and more specifically that this sector tends to favour larger producers and employ low-priced sales strategies to build market share,” Oakes said.  “We believe that these concerns are not legitimate in the B.C. market in regard to wine stores.”