85 per cent of local liquor could disappear from NB Liquor shelves, say producers

·3 min read

New Brunswick craft alcohol producers say new rules governing the sale of craft alcohol at NB Liquor stores could be catastrophic for their sales.

Sebastien Roy, the co-owner of Distillerie Fils du Roy in Paquetville, said the changes planned for next summer would see 85 per cent of locally made craft alcohol taken out of stores.

Craft producers would have to guarantee a certain volume of alcohol to be able to have their products stocked at liquor stores.

"In 2019, I invested $1.8 million in a malt house and a lab to produce yeast," Roy said. "A few months later, I received a letter that all my products will be out of the liquor store except two. It's catastrophic.".

Roy said he believes the reason for reducing the number of local products would be to increase the number of imported products that might bring in more revenue.

Representatives from the craft alcohol industry met with the Finance Minister Ernie Steeves this week to outline their concerns.

Roy said producers have known about the changes since January, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic and election, they didn't have the opportunity to speak out until now.

"We are fighting to defend what we lost," said Roy.

The producers have been able to get the province to back down on is a plan to change distribution of craft alcohol in the province.

Currently, craft alcohol producers can deliver their products to liquor stores outside their area.

But the province wanted to change that so alcohol would be sent to a centralized warehouse in Fredericton.

This raised concerns about the increased cost in storing the alcohol and keeping beer fresh in the non-refrigerated warehouse.

Plan under review

Steeves backed away from the plan, saying NB Liquor would review the new distribution model.

Roy said he's hopeful the retreat will be permanent but he wants the province to move on other industry issues.

He said the craft alcohol industry helps the economy not just through tax revenue, the sale of alcohol and employment in breweries and distilleries, but through the purchase of raw goods used in production.

"We have 100 producers in 48 communities in New Brunswick, we spend more than $14 million in payroll," said Roy.

"We invested last year, all of us, $72 million in our economy here in New Brunswick."

NB Liquor looking for maximum return

In an email to CBC News, NB Liquor spokesperson Sarah Bustard said the goal of the threshold change is to "manage a successful retail business and maximize our return to the people of New Brunswick."

"In January 2020, ANBL communicated to New Brunswick's craft alcohol producers that their products would begin being part of the Product Lifecycle Management Program as previously craft products were not being held to our threshold rankings and no products have ever been delisted by ANBL," Bustard said.

"Specific thresholds were communicated to producers and after hearing concerns from producers, ANBL expanded the timeline by 19 months and the revised deadline was set for July 2021."

Some examples of thresholds from NB Liquor include selling $30,000 of single-serving craft beer in a rolling 12-month period, other domestic beers must sell $360,114 in the same time period.