For nearly as long as there have been farmers in Canada, there have been distillers crafting whisky and other spirits. In Ontario, the spirits industry is the fourth largest purchaser of corn each year, buying up 200,000 to 250,000 tonnes of high quality corn, in addition to purchases of wheat, barley, and rye.
In 2015, the Ontario government expanded beverage alcohol sales to some Ontario grocery stores, but specifically excluded spirits from this new retail opportunity. Jan Westcott, president & CEO of Spirits Canada, says that’s unfair and wants Ontario whisky and spirits offered the same retail opportunity of wine, beer, and cider.
Launched this week at Grain Farmers of Ontario’s 2018 March Classic at London, the “Fairness for Ontario Spirits” campaign is aimed at getting spirit products equal access in Ontario grocery stores.
Westcott spoke with field editor Bern Tobin at the event to highlight the importance of Ontario’s spirit industry, the fourth largest buyer of Ontario corn, and an industry that supports 6,000 jobs and contributes $1.5 billion annually to Ontario’s Gross Provincial Product. Westcott outlines what Ontarians can expect from the campaign over the next few months, leading up to the provincial election.
“Restricting spirit sales is unwarranted, completely unfair, and will have devastating economic consequences if not reversed. We know this because it happened in Quebec. Since the Quebec government allowed wine and beer sales in grocery and corner stores, but not spirits, market share dropped from 40% to a mere 13%, decimating the spirits industry in that province. Distilleries closed, provincial operations were drastically reduced, and thousands of jobs were eliminated. There is no reason to believe the same thing will not happen here in Ontario,” says Westcott.
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Adds Westcott, “Ontarians will always drink spirits. The question before us is, will those spirits be made right here in Ontario, from grains grown by Ontario farmers, or will they be imported from other countries, thereby creating jobs and economic opportunity elsewhere? We stand to lose quite a lot.”
The Fairness for Ontario Spirits campaign will be visiting communities across southern Ontario during March, April, and May of 2018 to promote spirit sales in grocery stores.
For the campaign itinerary or to learn more, please visit: www.spiritscanada.ca/fairness