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Friday, November 13, 2009

One Man's Fight With the NLC

Back at the beginning of October, frustrated Newfoundland & Labrador resident, Frank MacDonald, sent the following email to the Newfoundland & Labrador Liquor Corporation about a notice he received from them regarding a Whiskies of the World Festival.
Why not a "Beers of the World" event? Instead of the beer party, why not have a serious beer event? The Wine festivals are serious, the Spiritfest is serious, the Rum tasting was a serious event. This Whiskies of the World is a "Premium Tasting Event." But the Beerfest was a drunken party with no new products.

I just returned from Alberta. There are only privately owned liquor stores in Alberta. The selection of products (wine, spirits, beer) is amazing. Some stores specialize in wine, some specialize in beer. Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton has OVER 600 different beers. Its called free enterprise. Hopefully we will have it in Newfoundland some day.
You see, MacDonald is a passionate craft beer drinker. Problem is you can't find to many living on the Rock. Other than Quidi Vidi and Storm products, the NLC doesn't stock anything else that a person with MacDonald's taste would prefer. Not happy with the NLC's stance on beer, MacDonald has made it a hobby to frequently email them to remind them of how unhappy he is. He finally got a response.
Thanks again for your feedback Frank. As previously explained to you, the beer market is very different than the spirits and wine market. Beer has a very short shelf-life compared to spirits and wines. As a result, we cannot afford to list a massive selection of beer products unless we have a customer base that buys these products at a frequency that makes it financially viable enough to justify us ordering a continuous supply. Experience has shown us time and time again that many of the beers we bring into the market do not meet the minimum demand requirements for us to afford to keep these products on the shelves.

We are also an island with a population of half a million people. That means that shipping beer (a perishable product) is expensive and takes a while to get here. And we don't have the critical customer mass that will buy such a wide variety of beer at a volume that warrants the investment.

We have asked some suppliers to bring many new beers to our market. If they do not wish to do so, we cannot force them to do so. This is not an NLC issue. This is a Supplier issue. In many instances, we cannot get access to the beers we want to bring here simply because the Suppliers of these products do not see the value of bringing the products to our market. It many cases they cannot build a business model that will see them make a profit here (Again, I reference cost of shipping, small customer base, short shelf life and low margins).

Frank, I could go on and on and on...I'm a serious beer drinker myself. Don't you think I'd like to have a better beer selection here too?? Surely if you admit that NLC has a good mix of wines and spirits along with supportive festivals for these products we would try to do the same for the beer category?

Its complicated Frank. I won't bother to get into the Privatization debate as that is even more of a tangle...but I will say that Alberta's model is farrrr from a wondrous success. It's undeniable that they have many stores with great variety. But they have regulatory problems, a flood of stores with no consistency in product offerings, major price variations, social responsibility concerns, etc. I'm told that the government in Alberta has said they wish they hadn't gone full tilt with privatization as the cons have begun to outweigh the pros. Don't forget...they have a much larger population and access to product in all directions by land. This allows them to get a greater variety, cheaper and faster...which allows them to have more beer and allows them to get it to the shelves faster which allows greater shelf life, which allows them more time to sell it, etc etc.

I appreciate your frustration, but I can assure you it is not nearly as clear cut as you might imagine it to be.

We continue to pursue new beers and will be adding more listings throughout the year. I just picked up a 6-pack of Italy's premium Perroni, some Pilsner Urquell and the newly released Rickards White. Life aint that bad!

If you have any suggestions for new products we will gladly look into them for you. The best way for us to learn about new beers and understand what our customers want is to hear from them directly. I encourage you to keep in touch with any recommendations.

Have a great weekend'
(I won't mention the name of the individual who responded to MacDonald's email)
So what do you think? While the response might not have contained the answers MacDonald was hoping for, I give the NLC credit for issuing a response this lengthy, and without all the standard government jargon (well, a lot of it anyway).

Keep up the hobby Frank.

6 comments:

Lee said...

Living in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley I know where Frank is coming from. Indeed, I do get a much better selection beer-wise than he does, but it's still not a great selection and it sucks. I can't afford to go to Halifax every week to take advantage of the much wider selection found not only in the NSLCs but the private stores.

Sadly, outside of places like Halifax, it's hard to get craft brews to sell in the region. The population base is smaller and older. There is not a lot of demand because it takes time to introduce new beer and educate people about them. For small craft brewers, time is money. Why try to sell to some stuck-in-their-ways, middle-aged drinkers who prefer macros brands, when you can focus your attention to younger, more urbane drinkers: young professionals and college students in the city?

The NSLC is getting better, but it still has a long way to go. Any progess in the NLC will no doubt take much longer.

3 Dog Brewery said...

Seems to me, making your own beer is a better solution.

Frank said...

I have made beer, some very good ones. But I'm no Trappist Father, or Sam Calagione either. :)

bobbyok said...

Given it's "complicated" and the NLC can't and won't bring in the products that Frank wants because they feel they won't be able to sell them, why can't they allow Frank to purchase from an online source that would ship to him directly? Of course, the response to that would be one of two things - either "social responsibility concerns" or "that's another government department's decision" - when the real answer is that they wouldn't want to lose their control over their captive customer base. Oi.

Andrew Bartle said...

I am originally from Newfoundland. I know the battles that this argument brings. I'll be honest, my first beer was a Jockey Club. My first craft beer was QV 1892. In Newfoundland, I will take my very small variety of craft beer. Don't forget Yellow Belly.[ Despite my bad experience with servers who do not drink beer and tried to explain to me that the Pale Ale and Wheat were the same beer kind of peeved me a little. However, the stout is stand up, run of the mill, good (not great) dry irish stout, and yes... I would drink it over Guinness and many other stouts. ]

I really feel that it is the passive aggressive nature of Newfoundlanders to really play off their drinking habits. We all know that NL is known for alcohol consumption (screech anyone?... kiss the cod!). I know for a fact there are an outstanding number of beer advocates there that would gladly open their hearts and wallets to a fine bottle of Chimay, or any of the Unibroue beer... hey... I think Tank House would blow most people away... it still does it in Ontario on a regular basis. The beer drinkers are of all ages. All it takes is one "trendy/popular" dude to have a bottle of [insert craft brew here] and people will start to follow.

Granted, NL seems to have a sweet deal with Samuel Adams, when I was living there I could get a six pack of the seasonals for at least a buck less than I can in here in Ontario.

I'll also bring up the fact of the idea of importing, corner store sales, etc. Keith's has to send their beer via liquid in tanks and bottle in NL to get it on shelves in gas stations, corner stores, etc. From what I remember, beers from Big Rock Brewery would cost far more than Heineken, for example.

Then you have the small community vibe. " I'll drink the beer my dad drank!" and life continues in it's little bubble.
Granted, there are many beer fanatics that would love to see a greater selection, and many that would try something different... if they could. Do not underestimate the consumer. They drink what is, because it is what they are given.

I was once told " The best beer in the world... is the beer in your hand!"

So give the people of NL something they can sink their teeth into. They'll grow to love it. Baby steps, but they will grow to love it.


Cheers,

-b

Seaportbeer said...

Good discussion Troy! Frank's frustration is warranted & NLC's reasons are real. But... there's never nothing that can be done. If they were serious about at least trying they'd plant a stake in the ground by making the flagship store in St. John's carry a wack of brands not available elsewhere. Perhaps wines & spirits as well? Requiring small guys like us (Garrison) to ship all over the rock & meet quota's is the same as slamming the door. Start by developing the market & fostering tastes. Utilize the strength (& warehousing) of other LC's by purchasing from NSLC, NBLiqour, LCBO, etc. Ultimately it may not show the same return as regular beer but it should still be profitable & not require an unreasonable price at the till. It will also go a long way towards satisfying Frank, fulfilling their mandate & shutting down cries for privatization. Cheers!

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