In a rather surprising move, The Beer Store has announced that it will open up ownership of the consortium to smaller Ontario brewers. Apparently none are more surprised than those small brewers who claim they were not consulted on the matter. What does this mean for the future of beer in Ontario? Is this the first step to a new level playing field? Does this open policy actually refute the idea that The Beer Store has operated inequitably in the past? Details at this point are fairly scarce so ultimately we will have to wait and see but from what is known, it doesn’t appear the major players are really giving up much.
It is clear that Molson-Coors, Labbatt (InBev) and Sleeman (Sapporo) are retaining a majority stake in the board of directors. So while it is true that small brewers will get a seat at the table, its not clear to what extent, if any, their voice will actually be heard. To me, it appears as though the beer store is allowing Ontario brewers the position of a minority shareholder in a closely held firm. Yes, they have a degree of ownership and thus responsibility, but they may never actually be able to influence policy.
It is interesting to see The Beer Store’s concessions to smaller brewers with those under a certain output getting benefits such as automatic listings in the 5 closest beer stores to the brewery and free listing for two products. One might cynically view this as an attempt to keep such brewers small as once in the system it would create an even greater cost penalty to expansion (beyond buying a larger space and scaled up brewing equipment).
Whatever the motivations, be they to quell the growing public outrage at their monopoly without actually giving up control or a genuine effort to rethink their business practice, only time will tell whether or not this is indeed good for Ontario beer producers. As skeptical as some (including myself) are, I think the only real option is for Ontario brewers to at least try this new system before they write it off as a complete platitude.
In any event, it appears as though 2015 will indeed be an interesting year.