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Canadians drinking more wine, less beer, StatsCan report shows

Possible changes to B.C.'s liquor act could allow people to bring their own bottle of commercially-made wine into a licensed dining room to have with a meal.

Canada has always been a nation of elbow-benders, but what we drink is changing.

The latest Statistics Canada report on alcohol sales has found sales from beer and liquor stores rose 2.2 per cent in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013. We spent $21.4 billion on booze that year. However, the rate of growth in sales has slowed.

We are still a nation of beer drinkers, but wine is increasingly popular. StatsCan data shows wine sales grew by 4.9 per cent, while beer declined by 0.1 per cent. Hard liquor sales also went up by 2.9 per cent.

Governments made out very well from our penchant for drink. Net income for provincial and territorial liquor authorities, as well as revenue from liquor licences and permits, was $6.3 billion, up 3.2 per cent.

[ Related: Canadians drink 50 per cent more booze than the rest of the world ]

Beer's market share has been declining for a decade. In 2003, it had 50 per cent of the alcohol market in dollar terms, while wine held 24 per cent. By 2013, beer's share of the market had declined to 43 per cent while wine rose to 32 per cent. Spirits' market share remained relatively stagnant, down to 25 per cent from 26 per cent over the decade.

The average per-person sales of beer equalled 78 litres, down from 83.6 litres a decade ago, CBC News noted. We seem to be more loyal to our Canadian-made brands: Domestic beer consumption dropped by 1.7 per cent but imports dropped by 3.8 per cent.

Alberta recorded the country's highest increase in booze sales, up seven per cent over the previous year, compared with the national increase of 2.2 per cent, the Calgary Herald reported.

While wine sales jumped 11 per cent, more than double the Canadian average, Alberta also bucked the declining trend in beer sales, which rose 4.5 per cent.

“Albertans are enjoying more of the good things in life, including the odd glass of wine," Todd Hirsch, chief economist with ATB Financial, told the Herald.

"According to Statistics Canada, wine consumption in the province has nearly doubled over the last two decades from 9.5 litres to 18.5 litres per person per year."

[ Related: Beer essential to Canada’s economy: report ]

Hirsch said the growth in wine consumption in Alberta is due in part to the province's growing affluence, giving consumers a taste for higher-end booze, a rising average age that tends to move people from beer to wine to spirits, and marketing efforts, the Herald said.

StatsCan charts show the Prairie provinces recorded 3.6 per cent increases in total liquor sales, while New Brunswick was the province to show the largest sales decline at 1.9 per cent, followed by Nova Scotia a 0.7 per cent and Quebec at 0.6 per cent.

StatsCan noted the figures on alcohol sales shouldn't be equated directly to consumption, which would also include home-made or on-premises beer and wine production, sales in duty-free shops and unrecorded transactions.