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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Meet John Hay - President, Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB)

The following interview, minus the intro, appeared in the fall issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine alongside an interview with the Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), Gary McMullen.

John Hay has served as the President of the OCB since 2003 and has worked hard for its members over the years, helping to secure much needed funds from the provincial government on two separate occasions. He has worked closely with the Speaker of the Legislative Assemlby of Ontario to get OCB produced beers into the Legislature, which has been great for the OCB, and he sees big things developing in the OCB's future.

How long have you served as President of the OCB?
We formed OCB in 2003. I began as President then. Actually I had worked for the founding group of breweries before that on a tax structure project.

What has been your biggest accomplish to date as President?
The most important accomplishment was the reduction in the volume levy for small breweries. It changed the income statements dramatically and led directly to the investment growth that we saw over the last six years. Howard Thompson was key to that success; he was the chair at the time.

The next two most important items were the Micro Brewer Strategy and the OCB Opportunity Fund. The first led to the Marketing Grants and Cam Heaps was key for that project as he was Chair. The Opportunity Fund provides money directly to breweries to invest in growth. Gary McMullen and Jim Brickman were instrumental in this effort.

While this was going on in Ontario we worked Canada-wide to have the excise tax reduced very significantly for small brewers. All the Regional Chairs were key for this one.

Just recently we were successful in having the marketing Grant renewed. Gary was very involved in that. We also found ways to make decisions as a group, get members involved in committee meetings and get access and help from a wonderful group of highly skilled and dedicated professionals. Gary was the calming influence in all this work.

What does the President of the OCB do on a day-to-day basis?
My days are very busy and varied. A lot of time is spent on strategy and looking ahead. Some time is spent on planning and budgeting. Some time is spent on analysis and model building.

There is considerable administration needed in managing resources, grant administration, and dues generation. New member negotiations and mentoring are important activities.

Lobbying is a very important element and is very time consuming. I also spend considerable time fixing things that break or processes that need re-thinking. We are both a lobbying organization and a marketing co-op. Government looks at our role as industry development so that gets us into areas like mentoring, technical, funding, group purchasing, tourism, etc. We try to do a few things well and only do the absolute essentials in the others.

What has been the most significant change since the inception of the OCB under your watch?
The most significant changes have been the move to cc meetings, the full acceptance of e-mails, the reluctance of all members to stay involved in the marketing programs and the biggest change is the current move to much more point of sale activities. Also the increased aggressiveness at the Beer Store is a significant change.

What did you do before joining the OCB?
I spent twelve years in government on the path to a DM (Deputy Minister), then 17 years with Carling O'Keefe and Molson in the corporate affairs area at the VP level.

You deal a lot with the Provincial government. What has that been like?
The Provincial Government under both parties have been very good to deal with and are very support of Ontario Craft Brewers.

Where do you see the OCB in 10 years?
In 10 years there will be quite a few more breweries in the smaller cities and the breweries will be much more involved in tourism and export. There will be more credentialing, the brew school at Niagara College will be running, there will be much more barley and hops from Ontario, and there will be a few breweries over 50,000 hl. The Beer Store will be taken back to a co-op or non-owners will be allowed to own their own system, and grocery store beer sales will happen via LCBO Agency Stores etc.

Ontario will have an International Beer Event and will be seen as "A North American Center for Craft Brewing Excellence"

Is there more that the Provincial government could be doing for OCB members?
Fix The Beer Store and align our business model with the LCBO.

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario has made it mandatory to serve beers produced by OCB members. How exciting is that?
The Speaker is a wonderful supporter and great at making it happen. We are thrilled with the featuring of the wining products in the Legislature.

Stats show that craft beers sales continue to rise. What is the OCB doing to help breweries deal with the current retail system in this province?
We work very closely with the LCBO and have pushed for return to self-serve stores at The Beer Store. We do a number of things with the LCBO, ranging from staff orientation - to the in-store sections - to tastings - to shared end-isles - to the fixture program.

Although none of the above would be possible if our members did not make great beer, get heavily involved in their communities and welcome visitors to their breweries.

*Photo - John Hay on the left and Great Lakes co-owner Peter Bulut. Jr at the 2009 Brewer's Plate*

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