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This article was published 18/7/2019 (502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A family-owned craft brewery in Neepawa announced that its product has hit shelves in Ontario, making it the first Manitoba brewery to break into the Ontario market.

Farmery Brewery, co-owned by brothers Chris and Lawrence Warwaruk, received confirmation Tuesday night that its Farmery Pink Lemonale and Prairie Berry-Ale are now available in select grocery and beer stores.

Farmery Estate Brewery owners Lawrence Warwaruk, left, and Chris Warwaruk at their brewery in Neepawa, Manitoba.

SUPPLIED

Farmery Estate Brewery owners Lawrence Warwaruk, left, and Chris Warwaruk at their brewery in Neepawa, Manitoba.

"It's a huge opportunity for us to be into the Ontario market," said Chris Warwaruk. "It's a huge market for craft beer. It has the population that's right next door."

Warwaruk later said the Ontario market is about two-and-a-half times bigger than the Manitoba and Saskatchewan markets combined.

"For other breweries outside, it's an untapped market. If there's no other Manitoba beer, and we're the first one, then that opens up the opportunity to give more variety to those consumers," he said.

Breaking into the Ontario market is notoriously tough. John Heim, president of Torque Brewing and former head of the Manitoba Brewers Association, said it can take up to 18 months for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) before cracking the product list, and costs producers about $25,000 per product.

"We've decided to go (west), because it's a little friendlier," Heim said, citing that there are no listing fees, it's easier to find and work with a distributor and it's a shorter drive.

"That just shows what kind of calibre the Ontario market wants to have in its marketplace. It's not for the faint of heart. So when you're given the opportunity, you embrace it, and you feel very fortunate to be there." — Farmery Brewery co-owner Chris Warwaruk

The LCBO's product management policy and procedure guide says a product must go through five stages before receiving approval, which includes reviewing marketing plans and product labels, taste testing and a chemical analysis of the product. It also states that the LCBO only accepts products based on its needs, unless a demand in the market dictates otherwise.

The document estimates the whole process takes nine weeks, though has a disclaimer that says times may vary.

Times certainly varied for Farmery, as the brothers pursued the Ontario market for a hectic two years of travelling to trade shows in Toronto, numerous meetings with the LCBO, filing a myriad of applications and revising product labels to abide by LCBO requirements.

Other breweries

There are 16 breweries in Manitoba, most of which only ship within Manitoba, although some do plan on expanding in the future. Farmery Brewery was the first to expand into Ontario, but here is a list of other local breweries that have branched out to other markets:

There are 16 breweries in Manitoba, most of which only ship within Manitoba, although some do plan on expanding in the future. Farmery Brewery was the first to expand into Ontario, but here is a list of other local breweries that have branched out to other markets:

A spokesperson from Fort Garry Brewing Co., situated on Lowson Crescent in Tuxedo Industrials, said it ships to Saskatchewan and will be looking at other markets in the future.

Half Pints Brewing Co., which sits near the airport on Roseberry Street, sells product in Saskatchewan and Alberta, according to the company's website.

John Heim of Torque Brewing, located in St. James, said it ships to Saskatchewan and will be entering the Alberta market shortly.

"That just shows what kind of calibre the Ontario market wants to have in its marketplace," Warwaruk said. "It's not for the faint of heart. So when you're given the opportunity, you embrace it, and you feel very fortunate to be there."

The brewery sent its first shipment of product to Ontario about three months ago, which is now on shelves in various grocery and beer stores. Knowing product would be on display during the summer months, the company sent its best selling summer products: Farmery Pink Lemonale and Prairie Berry-Ale.

The LCBO is essentially using the grocery and beer stores as a tryout, allowing Farmery to prove there is a demand for its product, before listing it in LCBO stores. But Warwaruk said the company is optimistic the products will receive similar receptions as in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Warwaruk and his brother Lawrence grew up on a farm, and later operated some restaurants and pubs in Winnipeg before entering the craft beer industry.

"We realized we just didn't want to be craft beer," Warwaruk said. "We wanted to take on our own kind of spin, and kind of involve our experience growing up on the family farm."

Situated about two hours west of Winnipeg, Farmery Brewery opened its Neepawa facilities in September 2016, and has since established itself as a local estate brewery, growing ingredients on its grain farm and hop yard, then making beer 16 km down the road. Warwaruk believes this brand will be especially appealing to Ontario consumers, where there is a market for estate wines.

Aside from Ontario and within Manitoba, the brewery distributes to Saskatchewan, Alberta, and ships malted sodas to Nunavut.

nicholas.frew@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @n_frew