The Beer Store & Bad PR: Kill the Thrill


I normally don’t post too much on local news, but this…this was a bit too tempting to resist. And the thing that started it all made me so annoyed, that rather than just rant on social media, I decided to take it to this site to get everything in one place.

So if you’re just joining us, here in Ontario there is a bit of a debate going on between The Beer Store and the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) over selling beer and wine in convenience stores. The Beer Store, owned by Molson-Coors, Labatt, and Sleeman, are, aside from Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores, the only other place you can buy beer in the province of Ontario. Since it’s owned by three mega-beer corporations, you can probably take a wild guess as to what kind of beers you’re most likely to find there and you’d be right to assume that if you’re a small brewer who wants shelf space at their stores, you will not be able to afford it.

So the OCSA wants to open up the market and allow selling of beer and wine in convenience stores. The Beer Store, obviously enjoying the profits it makes on being pretty much the only game in town, is understandably doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. And so, The Beer Store had a few meetings and Ontario Beer Facts was born, “Providing Ontarians with important facts on the consequences of selling beer, wine and hard liquor at corner stores and gas stations.”. The problem is that the facts they give…well, they aren’t really facts. Any points they give can mostly be slapped away by the OCSA or anyone at all who decides to take five minutes to look in to both organizations. Nevertheless, they still trudge on, taking advantage of people’s fear and stupidity as they move ahead. One such move on their part has been particularly offensive.

So above is an ad that The Beer Store just put out, showing the careless Convenience store clerk knowingly selling alcohol to minors. It’s an ad that harkens back to late-80s-early-90s PSAs about drug use and if it wasn’t officially backed by The Beer Store, I’d think it was a joke made by a parody account. The underlying point the video was trying to make was “You can not trust shopkeepers to sell this stuff. The Beer Store’s employees are specially trained so they can sell alcohol responsibly”. Which ok, I can see how that might be a good point to go with…but what if we made it so Ontario shopkeepers who want to sell alcohol in their stores be required to get SmartServe Certification? No one serving drinks in the province can work without one and the penalties for violating are harsh enough for shopkeepers to not want to even chance it. It’s a good response and one that Beer Store President Ted Moroz can’t quite answer back with anything.

Bottom line: No one is taking this new ad seriously at all and there are many people who are actively boycotting The Beer Store because of it’s blatant attempt at fearmongering to keep their profits flowing. If that makes you angry, good. It should make you angry. 



So with that busted, the OCSA should have it pretty easy PR-wise, but…well, they’re being kind of disappointing. They have so many things on their side: family-owned business, an active support of local Ontario wines and beers, actual FACTS…but they aren’t using them, instead taking the time to snark on The Beer Store for being wrong, and that’s it. I voiced my frustration and asked questions to the OCSA and was asked to call them, but…I’m just annoyed because I shouldn’t have to call them. I shouldn’t have to dig for answers to detailed questions because they should be shouting them out to whoever will listen as their opposing argument.

In the end, we’re left in the middle of a PR mudfight between two Ontario giants and the only reason people are going with the OCSA is because they aren’t The Beer Store. I’m just suggesting that people should be going with the OCSA because they very clearly offer ________ and _________ and some ________. I suppose I’ll dig and let you folks know how it went.

In the meantime, for more amazing coverage on this debate, read Toronto writer Ben Johnson’s posts on the topic and check out Sun columnist Jordan St. John’s blog for updates. Jordan recently got sick of the commissioned reports brought out by both sides and actually got the ball rolling on an independent survey.

In the meantime, let the message stand to not trust bad PR. Call them out on it. Ask questions. Show them that you aren’t an idiot.

22 Comments Add yours

  1. Patrick Ryan says:

    This reminds me of how Mothers Against Drunk Driving demanded the 21-and-over drinking age to prevent drunk driving in the United States. In the eighties, the federal government required every state to enforce the same age at risk of losing highway funds.

    Granted, MADD is not “The Beer Store,” and it’s even more infuriating to see massive brewers quashing their competition with crony policies.

    As for OCSA, I suppose they can’t pay as much as the big brewers, hence the lousy PR. A true shame.

    1. Robin says:

      But even with not having as much money they could at least be saying things differently.

      1. Patrick Ryan says:

        For sure.

  2. Richard S says:

    …and wait for their Twitter account(s) to never reply to your questions.

    1. Robin says:

      Because they all use Hootsuite and don’t actually go on.

      This morning I asked for details about the 30% dedicated shelf space to Ontario wine and craft beer. Their response? “We offer 30% dedicated shelf space to Ontario wine and craft beer.”


  3. Chris says:

    That ad made me angry. It kind of showed they are very afraid to lose their monopoly. I have boycotted the Beer Store for many years now. You don’t have to go far in the US, like Vermont and NYS to see how bad we really have it with the Beer Store being the only option besides the LCBO.

  4. It’s especially sad that whoever is running the OCSA is taking troll bait by arguing with the @ONTBeerFacts twitter (an obvious, over-the-top parody). @ONBeerFacts is the actual The Beer Store one. They ought to get a little more savvy about such things!

  5. Ceecee says:

    Somebody should do a survey of how many people bought beer at the Beer Store when they were underage. One right here.

  6. Shanondoah says:

    Everytime that commercial comes on tv I get angrier than the last time I saw it. Not only is it insinuating that convenience store owners want to see kids drinking but that they’re happy to support it. Which is just ridiculous. Also, I’m not sure how the beer store’s “special training” regarding keeping alcohol out of the hands of minor is different than how convenience stores are already responsible for keeping cigarettes and lotteries out of the hands of minors. As you said, it’s fearmongering and hopefully Ontarians will see right through it.

  7. Great article. I too had hoped the ineptitude with which this ad was deployed would more or less pave the way for a reason-based campaign by the OCSA and others but they seem to be actively engaging them at their level.

  8. averagecraftbeerdrinker says:

    I agree that the commercial is stupid but how will the OCSA help me the craft beer drinker? Right now I can usually get a lot of the beers I want from a local LCBO. There are a beers that I wish I could get without making a trip to Quebec (Dieu Du Ciel) or Colorado (Left Hand Brewing) but I seriously doubt the convenience stores are going to stock these beers. I believe they will simply stock only the common denominator cheap macros. This leads me towards the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp.

    1. Robin says:


      Alright, so the OCSA have pledged to give 30% of shelf space to Ontario wineries and small Ontario breweries. In part they’ll be using the LCBO as a wholesaler and will also give nearby small breweries who can’t do provincial distribution a chance to have their beer sold in C-stores. No LCBO approval needs to be had, just a license to operate as a brewery in Ontario.

      1. averagecraftbeerdrinker says:

        Hi Robin! If you think about it a convenience store is not the place people will go to try out craft beers. If they’ve got room for 10 brands of beer in between the lysol bleach and the fridge full of dairy products, they’ll have 3 brands of Ontario wines and or Ontario beers. I can already browse through a couple of big aisle fulls of global craft beers at the LCBO so it doesn’t sound like the convenience stores are going to help me. I can see that they can help the guy who wants to buy some Coors lite on an Easter Sunday cause he ran out prior to the hockey game. Not that I find anything wrong with buying beer on an Easter Sunday but it doesn’t seem like sufficient reason to change what seems to be working.

      2. Robin says:

        The LCBO won’t be disbanded, just The Beer Store. Not to mention this could open up the possibility of specialty stores that could have a really good selection.

        And actually, I know of several American or Quebec convenience stores where people go to try craft beers.

  9. averagecraftbeerdrinker says:

    Hi Robin, how much benefit do we get from changing a system that already seems to work? I also don’t pretend to fully understand the relationship between The Beer Store, LCBO, and The Province but it’s not a stretch of my imagination to guess that The Beer Store and the triumvirate that runs it agrees to do certain things in return for their pseudo-monopoly. An example could be bottle and can recycling and another example could be the public service announcements the macro breweries do in the form of commercials and other adds regarding things like drinking while pregnant.

    1. averagecraftbeerdrinker says:

      I meant to include the above as a reply but I might have forgotten to click reply.

    2. Robin says:

      Currently The Beer Store charges an initial listing fee for any brewers who want to get in, followed by additional fees per STORE. The process makes it practically impossible for smaller breweries to get in. This way, at least the option is open. Yes there will be some stores that stock more macro than others (I live in Scarborough and don’t anticipate seeing much in way of selection in my local c-stores) but other stores will have that option to respond to customer demand instead of just telling the customer what they demand. Wonders of the Free Market.

      My point is The Beer Store DOESN’T work. In the end this isn’t about the quality of selection (I think that’s an argument that will be made later on), but it’s a matter of convenience and not screwing people over with at least the option for stores to stock smaller brewery beers.

    3. Robin says:

      So by way of example, here is the same scenario in The Beer Store, and a C-Store.

      Customer: I wish you guys would stock Sawdust City’s Lone Pine IPA.
      TBS: Well, we don’t.

      Customer: I wish you guys would stock Sawdust City’s Lone Pine IPA.
      C-Store: You know, that’s the fifth time someone asked that. I think I’ll call the brewery and order a small amount to see how it does.

  10. vonfunk says:

    This OCSA push for deregulation is really about the possibilities that could happen. I know of one bar owner who stated the only reason she opened the bar was because she was unable to open her own beer store. I’m indifferent to the idea of Mac’s or 7-11 selling beer. Will I shop there? Maybe if I need to. If I’ve got friends coming over, it’s 10pm and proper stores are closed, then yes, I’ll buy it there. I can buy cheese at 7-11, I can get it at a grocery store, but neither of the can offer any info beyond saying it’s cheddar. The Beer store can’t offer opinions, if you are lucky you might find a staff member at the LCBO who knows what they are talking about. But if someone were to able to open a beer boutique, they would be selling beer, providing knowledge & suggestions. This exists nowhere in this province. Do I like the OCSA, not really, but in this case the end justifies the means.

    1. averagecraftbeerdrinker says:

      Hi vonfunk, is this about just letting convenience stores sell or is this about opening it up completely? My impression is that it’s just about convenience stores but I could be wrong. I would support opening it up completely. Opening it up to just convenience stores sounds like replacing one group with poor taste in beer with another group that has worst taste in beer. Making the argument that opening it up for convenience stores now will eventually lead to bigger and better things sounds like an “if you build it they will come” argument.

      1. vonfunk says:

        There would be no way to open it up to OCSA member stores without opening it up to other convenience and grocery stores. Which means you would have people who know beer and are passionate about it opening up stores with a product mix that would carry the bare necessity of non-beer product required by law. You would have smaller breweries being able to open up convenience stores as a way of enabling an alternate channel of distribution (think it similar to a Tim Horton’s inside of a gas station).

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