Driven by beer and ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation has recorded a 4.5 per cent increase in sales for the first nine months of its fiscal year.
From April to December, the Crown corporation notched more than $235.7 million in sales, up more than $10.5 million over the same period in the previous year.
Bruce Keating, president and CEO of the Crown corporation, told CBC News says the sales increase reflects trends seen in other provinces.
"It's been difficult to predict and forecast what would happen during the pandemic, just because it's such uncertain times," Keating said.
"But I guess what we're seeing is similar to what other jurisdictions are seeing across the country as well. It seems to be a common experience that we're having in all provinces."
Sales in most categories of drinks went up: beer by 11.3 per cent ($26.7 million to $29.7 million); ready-to-drink beverages (such as vodka coolers) by 10.7 per cent ($26.9 million to $29.8 million); and wine by 6.1 per cent, ($61.5 million to $65.3 million). Sales of spirits were comparatively flat, selling $110.4 million in the first three quarters last year and $110.9 million this year, an increase of just 0.5 per cent.
However, licensed establishments such as bar and restaurants are struggling through the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many closed when the province shifted back to Alert Level 4 in early January — tightening public health restrictions to clamp down on the spread of the Omicron variant — while others face challenges over reduced capacity.
Keating said the pandemic hit those businesses particularly hard but things began to turn around when restrictions eased for a good stretch over the summer and fall, allowing them to operate as close to normal as possible.
"We've seen licensees … have steady gains year to date as well, and that would make sense, given how severe some of the conditions were a year prior to that," he said.
"Year over year we're seeing their sales numbers grow, and I think that kind of reflects that they've kind of gotten back somewhat closer to normal operations."
Cannabis sales also up
The NLC also regulates the sale of cannabis in Newfoundland and Labrador. Sales for recreational marijuana from April through November were about $39.6 million, a 25 per cent increase from same period in the previous year. (December figures were not yet available.)
Heading into the current fiscal year, which began in April, there were 30 licensed retailers in Newfoundland and Labrador. As of Wednesday there were 38. Keating said the corporation expects 45 by the end of March, adding that more retail shops across the province it helps push back against the illicit market.
"There will be new locations this year in Gander, in Grand Falls-Windsor, another location in Corner Brook on West Street, a location in Port aux Basques, Whitbourne and a number of others that we've added," he said.
"That's been a big part of developing the cannabis industry and providing safe and secure access on that front."