A letter that the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) sent to craft brewers earlier this spring has raised concern about how the retailer supports local products.
Many of the beer producers who received the letter thought it meant that NSLC was de-listing their products. De-listing is an annual procedure NSLC undertakes, assessing products with a formula based on sales, sales history, comparison with other local counterparts, and trends.
“We got the notice, as well as many of the small breweries did, that we were on the bubble to be de-listed,” says Mark Baille, the owner of Liverpool’s Hell Bay Brewing Company
NSLC spokeswoman Beverly Ware says it’s all a misunderstanding.
“The letter was not a notice to de-list their products,” she explains in an email. “This correspondence was designed to let producers know that their products are currently under-performing and may require additional support to raise awareness with our customers,.” She adds a promise that NSLC won’t de-list any local brews this year.
The craft brewing industry is rapidly growing in clout. NSLC retails products from 33 different Nova Scotia craft beer producers, up from 18 just three years ago. According to its latest annual report, Nova Scotian craft beer sales were up 10.8% to $22.3 million in the last fiscal year. Overall, NSLC earned $274.5 million, an 11% increase from the previous year.
Hell Bay currently has four products listed with NSLC. Baille laments the fact that the larger producers take the bulk of the NSLC’s shelf space, leaving limited retail space for the small Nova Scotian producers. He believes that, as a Crown corporation, it should be doing more to support locals.
“It’s just greed,” he says. “To give us small breweries a fair shake would not hurt them at all … They can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and we can’t do anything about it.”
Titus, who is also the founder of Garrison Brewery in Halifax, believes Nova Scotian producers need all the support they can get.
“You’re seeing a lot of producers feeling the pain, and I don’t think anyone thought we were going to go into a third lockdown,” he says. “They have been in a state of uncertainty for months on end, and they get this letter from, essentially, the only game in town.”
While Titus conceded that the NSLC has only a certain number of stores and it can allow only a certain amount of shelf space, he noted that the same system existed 24 years ago when he started Garrison Brewing and there were only a few brewers; today there are significantly more.
The PC Party of Nova Scotia issued a news release last month calling on NSLC to not even consider de-listing any local products.
“Why the liquor commission would be floating letters and raising concern and anxiety during what’s an already highly anxiety-ridden period for the last 14 months, it just seems irresponsible in my mind. Totally insensitive,” says Murray Ryan, a PC MLA and critic for the NSLC.
Andrew Tanner is one of the founders of Saltbox Brewing Co. in Mahone Bay. He says his company has a good working relationship with NSLC, but there’s room for improvement.
“I don’t think they’re moving fast enough to correct that shelf space issue,” he adds. “Local beer is selling faster than the big brands of the world in the NSLC, so that should give them enough data to find more shelf space for local producers.”
Titus argues that one easy solution would be for NSLC to follow New Brunswick’s lead, and relax it’s retail monopoly, allowing craft brewers to retail each other’s products.
“We have a growing wine, cider, spirit, and craft beer industry and there is no way that all of these products can funnel through the same pipeline of the NSLC,” he says. “This is a great way they can sell each other’s goods and they’re all promoting local.”