Whole Foods, Liberty Wines partner to bring first wine sales to Vancouver grocery store

Vancouverites will soon be able to buy wine at one of the city's grocery stores — five years after the provincial government announced changes to its liquor policy to make that possible.

Liberty Wines and the Whole Foods location at Cambie Street and 8th Avenue have partnered to move forward with a "store within a store" model.

Robert Simpson, manager at Liberty Wines, says the wine store will operate an independent, 500-square-foot business within the grocery store.

"It's very small store, but hopefully we can serve the needs of the clientele there," Simpson said. "It'll be right there when they do their grocery shopping."

Decision overturned

Simpson says Liberty Wines applied to the city's Board of Variance to review its development application which was denied earlier this year because the location will be across the street from an existing B.C. Liquor Store.

The city's regulations don't allow liquor stores to be within 500 metres of each other, among other rules.

But Liberty Wines argued that it serves different products than the provincial liquor merchant and the area has a high population density that can accommodate both stores.

Google Maps
Google Maps

The board agreed with that assessment and overturned the city's decision to deny the application, Simpson says. He hopes to have the store in place next year.

Simpson says the partnership is a good fit because both Liberty Wines and Whole Foods focus on organic, natural ingredients.

"We felt that there was a sort of synergy between the pair of us," he said.

First 'store-within-a-store'

This will be the first time Vancouverites will be able to buy wine in a grocery store.

Five years ago the province announced changes to its liquor policy that would allow grocery stores to sell alcohol, either as a "store-within-a-store" or directly on their shelves.

Grocery stores have to be at least 10,000 square feet in size and the on-the-shelf model is limited to wine.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Municipalities are allowed to implement their own policies. In June 2017, Vancouver city council chose to only allow the store-within-a-store option.

A staff report from February 2018 said Vancouver would be the first city in B.C. to do so. The 32 stores across the province that have a wine licence have opted for the on-the-shelf model.

Simpson says the store-within-a-store model is a less popular option because retailers aren't interested in giving up valuable real estate to another business.

'Too expensive and cumbersome'

Gary Sands, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, says many of his organization's members think the government regulations favour large grocery chains instead of independent businesses.

Of the 32 stores with wine licences, 21 are Save-on-Foods locations and eight are Real Canadian Superstores.

"It's too expensive and cumbersome for the smaller businesses to get into this," Sands said in an email.

Sands says his organization's position on the matter is that if the government is going to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores, it should be open to all types of grocers.

"There should not be winners and losers as a result of a government decision or policy," Sands said.

Impact of culture, minimum pricing

A city staff report outlined public health risks associated with increasing access to alcohol.

University of British Columbia addiction researcher Dr. Michael Krausz says there are some correlations between addiction, and other negative health outcomes, and the availability of alcohol.

But Krausz says there are other more important factors that can limit problem drinking, like education programs for children, minimum pricing and early treatment programs.

Culture also has an important impact, Krausz says. Countries like France and Italy, where lower-alcohol drinks like wine and beer are consumed primarily with friends and during a meal, have few problems with alcohol dependence.

"There are some good reasons to sell wine also in the normal environment and not specialized environments," he said.

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