B.C. wines will be on the shelves of the province's supermarkets along with cereals, meat and other products after the government announced it will allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores.
The B.C. Liberals have been talking about the issue of grocery sales for months in an effort to update liquor regulations, and they announced Thursday that the plan will be enacted in early 2015.
VQA wine – which is fully produced in British Columbia as part of an industry that annually contributes $2-billion to the B.C. economy – will be sold off designated shelves and purchased at designated check-out tills.
Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the B.C. Wine Institute, which represents the VQA sector, said his organization relishes the prospect of new, broader markets for members' products, which are now sold through 21 retail licences across the province.
"It allows more access to the public or consumers to access B.C. VQA wine," he said, adding that space is now limited in both government and private liquor stores. "This opens another channel for consumers to have access to B.C. VQA wine."
However, he said it's too early for projections on the commercial value of the new rules, especially because it's unclear how the model will look in stores.
Over all, the government is mandating the creation of liquor stores within grocery stores, which will need to obtain both private liquor and government liquor licences. As with wine, beer and spirits will be sold through separate cashiers in a bid to prevent minors from accessing liquor.
Convenience stores will not be allowed to sell liquor, John Yap, the parliamentary secretary for liquor reform, said in a statement.
Dave Crown, speaking for the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C., representing pubs, bars and retailers, said the change is adjusting the "goal posts" in the market in a way that may be unsettling to current liquor retailers.
"We wonder about the wisdom of it all when the government makes a steady income off liquor in the province and has for decades in the past. This increases the retail area, but it doesn't increase the marketplace," he said.
The government has pitched the new approach as an effort to improve consumer convenience. "During the B.C. Liquor Policy Review consultations, I heard that consumers want convenience and choice," Mr. Yap said in his statement.
Mr. Crown said it remains unclear how grocery stores will react.
"They could shut us down," he said. "If they can sell liquor at the same price we can and it's in the Safeway stores, where are you going to buy your liquor?"
He said he was especially concerned about a government decision to drop a five-kilometre restriction on the movement of licences because it may mean licences being shifted around the province.
NDP MLA Shane Simpson, speaking for the opposition in an interview, raised concerns Thursday about rural licences being shifted to urban areas to chase larger markets.
"Portable licenses will be valuable," he said.
He said he fears the government will retreat behind closed doors to write regulations enacting their plans, limiting the opportunity for any further input.
Over all, the government announced on Thursday that it is enacting 15 of 73 recommendations after wide-ranging consultations with stakeholders, including the public.