Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alcohol sales go through roof

Bank predicts best year ever for liquor biz in Manitoba

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If a new report on alcohol sales is to be believed, a lot of you are probably in need of a new bottle opener or corkscrew.

According to the Bank of Montreal, 2012 is shaping up as the best year ever in terms of liquor sales both in Manitoba and across Canada.

It's not that people are drinking more -- they're spending more on the bottles they're buying. Aaron Goertzen, an economist with the Toronto-based bank, said the ongoing improvement in the Canadian economy and rising consumer incomes are altering spending habits in liquor and beer stores.

"People are feeling more confident. All of that makes them more likely to buy a nicer bottle of wine or scotch," he said.

"They're shifting to more expensive products, which has big benefits to the retailers and producers -- revenue growth, plain and simple."

BMO's findings are no surprise to Tom Bima, general manager of the Winehouse, one of the city's private wine stores.

His customers spend an average of $17 per bottle of wine but over the past 12 months, he's noticed they're often super-sizing their purchases with 1.5- and three-litre bottles.

"There's a little more money out there now. Last year, people were spending $50 on three bottles of wine, now they're spending the same amount of money on two bottles," Bima said.

Sales of wine, beer and spirits typically surge in December -- more than 40 per cent above the monthly average -- making it the highest volume sales month, BMO said. By comparison, the retail sector is up 15 to 20 per cent from holiday shopping.

Last December, the average Canadian adult spent slightly more than $85 on alcohol, with approximately one-third of that going to Canadian-produced wines.

That's consistent with the trend over the last decade or so that has seen increased wine consumption. That poses a challenge to breweries and distillers, Bima said.

"We think of ourselves as a beer-drinking country but we're shifting more towards wine," Bima said.

The MLCC is seeing much the same picture as BMO. Spokeswoman Susan Harrison said year-over-year sales to the end of November are up both in volume and dollar value.

She said for the past few years, sales of premium products have increased during the Christmas season.

"We attribute that to people liking to treat themselves and their families during the holidays," she said.

This is especially true with beer, she said, as MLCC figures show people moving increasingly to more craft and premium lagers and ales.

The opening of the first Liquor Mart Express on Pembina Highway earlier this week doesn't faze Bima. In fact, he said he doesn't see the liquor store in a grocery store as a competitor but more as a means to grow the liquor pie.

"I'm all for introducing more Winnipeggers to the responsible consumption of fun beverages. If Safeway's (liquor store) introduces somebody new to wine, eventually they'll come over to us," he said.

"I need more people educated and aware that wine is fun and it goes well with dinner. When used in moderation and responsibly, it can be a great addition to your day."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 B6


Updated on Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 8:20 AM CST: replaces photo

11:48 AM: adds photo

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