By Andrew Macdonald
Loblaw’s singlehanded battle for the right to sell wine at its Atlantic Superstores, Save Easy and Your Independent stores in Nova Scotia has caught the attention of Progressive Conservative leadership contender John Lohr.
As reported last weekend in The Macdonald Notebook, Lohr says the time has come to sell Nova Scotia wine at food stores in the province.
In 2016, New Brunswick allowed a trial run of wine sales in seven major grocery stores. Looking at the project’s success, a compelling case can be made that the wine industry in Nova Scotia, more developed than in New Brunswick, would stand to gain economically.
In 2017, the New Brunswick government ruled the pilot project so successful it moved to stock 30 Loblaw and 30 Sobeys stores with wine in that province.
The spinoffs for vineyards in New Brunswick have been profound and there has been no negative impact on the provincial liquor corporation’s own sales, despite wine being available in the 30 Loblaw and Sobeys stores in New Brunswick. Significantly, there have been no job losses at liquor corporation outlets in New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick government has been so pleased with the extra dollars from wine sales, it is moving in April to expanding the grocery store project to all franchised Loblaw and Sobey retailers in the province.
Loblaw has been lobbying the McNeil government to no avail since 2016 to allow the similar sale of wines in this province.
To get a handle on the runaway success in New Brunswick, I spoke this week to the owner of a Moncton winery, Magnetic Hill Vineyard.
A 12-year-old family run operation, Magnetic Hill Vineyard is now expanding its 1,000-square foot operation to a large 13,000 square foot space.
Second generation operator Zack Everett tells me the massive expansion is mostly due to the winery’s ability to sell its products at New Brunswick grocery outlets.
In fact, Everett returned home to the province in 2016 because the grocery store program was wildly successful. He gave up helmsmanship of a Mexican winery to take over the Moncton company his parents established a dozen years ago.
“We’re in expansion mode, and the majority of our growth is coming from the sale at grocery stores,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook. “It has definitely helped us grow our New Brunswick wine industry.
“We’ve been around for 12 years, but originally the only growth goal we had was that we wanted to sell what we produced out of our winery. But with our product in grocery stores now, we are expanding from 1,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet.
“Obviously, the grocery stores played a huge part in our expansion plans,” says the 33-year-old.
Other factors include the New Brunswick wine industry coming of age, and finding grapes that would make it through that province’s harsh winters.
In Halifax, Mark Boudreau, the Atlantic Canada spokesman for Loblaw, says Magnetic Hill Winery is not the only winery to expand its production in New Brunswick, following the grocery store development.
“Most of the top wineries in the province on New Brunswick are expanding or have benefited greatly from the wine in grocery store program”, he tells The Macdonald Notebook. “Magnetic Hill Winery, Richelieu, Dunhams Run Estate are all in expansion mode.”
Everett says allowing Nova Scotia wine producers to retail at this province’s grocery stores would mean more sales for these companies.
Loblaw’s plan to retail in Nova Scotia is being stymied by Finance Minister Karen Casey who oversees the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, which has rejected grocery store sales because it operates a monopoly booze business in Nova Scotia.
In a letter to Boudreau and Loblaw, Casey turned down Loblaw’s efforts to retail wine at its Nova Scotia stores. Boudreau, for privacy reasons, won’t divulge the entire letter to The Macdonald Notebook.
“I am not permitted to share the letter from the minister as that is private correspondence,” says Boudreau, “but here is a quote from the letter – and she copied Bret Mitchell, CEO from NSLC:
“Although Nova Scotia is not actively considering any expansion of beverage alcohol retail, we continue to explore this issue with the NSLC,” wrote Casey.
“Any expansion of beverage alcohol retail must be carefully considered in terms of social responsibly and impact to the province. Trade impacts are also a key consideration for NSLC as the monopoly liquor authority for Nova Scotia.”