The Beer Store says it is looking forward to the next stage in its “evolution” as the province rolls out an accelerated timeline for expanding retail alcohol sales in Ontario, but many other groups are slamming the plan.

On Friday, Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontario would be expanding the sale of alcohol in grocery stores as soon as Aug. 1, when grocery stores which are already licensed will be allowed to start selling ready-to-drink beverages as well as large-pack sizes of beer.

Convenience stores will then be allowed to start selling beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink beverages as early as Sept. 5 and as of Oct. 31, all eligible grocery and big box stores will be able to sell beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink beverages, including large-pack sizes.

As part of an agreement reached with The Beer Store to expand alcohol sales ahead of the expiration of an exclusive deal that was et to end in December 2025, the province will reimburse the conglomerate up to $225 million.

"With today's announcement, we look forward to the next stage in The Beer Store's evolution. The Beer Store will be transformed, where our role as primary distributor and recycling steward takes center stage while maintaining a competitive retail footprint," Beer Store CEO Roy Benin said in a written statement.

A one-time initial payment of $22.5 million will be made to make sure The Beer Store has enough funds to cover early implementation costs, the province has said.

As per a previous agreement, The Beer Store will continue to be the distribution of beer to retailers, bars and restaurants until at least 2031.

The statement went on to say that The Beer Store will scale up its distribution fleet and network to increase service to approximately 10,000 private sector outlets, an increase of about 8,500 outlets.

"The announcement acknowledges The Beer Store's pivotal role as the primary distributor of beer in Ontario and underscores its unwavering commitment to responsible beer sales," a statement from the Beer Store read.

"This commitment is embodied through its recycling program and the Ontario Deposit Return Program, which will continue until at least 2031, ensuring a sustainable future for Ontario's beverage alcohol marketplace."

But not all stakeholders are happy with today’s news, including the Retail Council of Canada (RCC).


'A sweetheart deal'

Diane Brisebois, the president and CEO of the RCC, whose board of directors includes executives from major retail chains such as Sobeys, Metro, Loblaw, Costco, and Walmart, called the news “a sweetheart deal” for the multinational beer companies ABInBev (Labatt) and Molson Coors. Those companies jointly own 98 per cent of The Beer Store.

“Opening the tap for the big international brewers starts with a $225 million gift from the taxpayers of Ontario, compounded by pushing the brewing giants’ recycling costs off onto grocers and hence onto Ontario consumers,” Brisebois’ statement read.

“This is a unique gift to the big brewing companies, as every other industry in Ontario is responsible for its own fair share of recycling costs.”

She went on to say that it may not make sense for the council’s members to sell alcohol under the framework laid out by the government.

“Our grocery members have invested millions of dollars in capital and services during the past eight years and we see firsthand how much consumers enjoy the convenience of buying beer and wine when they shop in our stores,” she said.

“Unfortunately, today’s announcement forces our members to take a serious look at whether or not selling alcohol under the forthcoming framework makes sense.

In a  statement, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) said they are disappointed that the government has chosen convenience over public health.

“The main driver of alcohol-related harm is convenience. Decades of research show that increased ease of access leads to more consumption and, in turn, more harm,” the CAMH statement read. “Young people – children, adolescents, and young adults – are among the most affected. Alcohol-related harms include an increase in alcohol dependence, chronic diseases, injuries, violence, suicide, mental health concerns, and social issues like intimate partner violence and impaired driving.”

Dr. Leslie Buckley, who serves as chief of the Addictions Division at CAMH, told CP24 Friday that she’s concerned that expanded availability of alcohol could exacerbate a number of social harms tied to alcohol.

“So, we're really worried about violence and domestic violence, which is already seeing increases and we know how linked that is to alcohol,” Buckley said. “We're worried about DUIs. So we need health promotion. We need to talk up the harms of (alcohol) so that people understand that better.”

She said retail sales of alcohol should involve being careful about serving and selling, making sure that frontline staff are certified, making sure that the alcohol is kept away from other food areas, and putting labels on alcohol to talk about its harms.

The statement called for the province to allow municipalities to opt out of the new alcohol sales regime, as it did for cannabis, as well as to restrict alcohol sales near schools and daycares.

Opposition parties also slammed the deal with The Beer Store as being “out of touch” for using public money to speed up expanded alcohol sales.

“Right now, far too many Ontarians are struggling to make rent or find a family doctor. They want a government that sees their struggles and responds with the investments in the services they rely on every single day,” Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner said in a statement. “The Premier is out of touch with the real struggles people are facing. People need the government to fast track funding for housing affordability and healthcare instead of giving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the Beer Store to speed up a timeline they announced just five months ago.”