The British Columbia government’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) has reviewed the policy around private sales of liquor, particularly with regard to wine in BC grocery stores, and made some changes that were effective April 1, 2015. The most significant changes in BC liquor sales policy concerns the distance between liquor selling outlets, both public and private, and the type of outlet that may sell liquor and or BC wines.

Types of Stores Controlled Under the New Policy

  • LRS – Licensee Retail Store (otherwise known as a Private Liquor Store)
  • IWS – Independent Wine Store
  • VQA Store – wine store owned and operated by the BC Wine Institute
  • RAS – Rural Agency Store
  • BCLS – BC Liquor Store
  • LDB – Liquor Distribution Branch
  • WCC – Wholesale Customer Centre
  • LCLB – Liquor Control and Licensing Branch

Summary of BC Liquor Sales Policy Changes

Here is a summary of the policy rules and how they have changed.

  1. Distance that liquor stores can move: The previous rule, stated that an LRS (private liquor store) could not move outside of their local municipal government or, if outside their city could only move 5km from their original site. This rule was removed April 1, 2015 and allows LRS licenses to move anywhere within the province.
  2. Distance between outlets: The previous rule, stated that LRS (private liquor stores) cannot be located within 1 km of one another. This distance rule has been modified to now includeall stores, public and private (subject to each local municipality’s zoning bylaws).
  3. Grocery stores: The new rule states that, if they meet certain criteria of floor size, safety and training requirements (for example, 70% of sales must come from food products and the store must be staffed by adult employees who have Serving It Right certification) BC grocery stores may sell wine in a store-within-a-store configuration.
  4. Private licensees: BC VQA (Vintner’s Quality Alliance) stores and independent wine stores (IWS) can move into grocery stores to sell BC wine on grocery shelves.
  5. Restrictions: Store-within-a-store and 100% BC wine-on-shelves businesses cannot operate at the same location.
  6. Wholesale sales: Previously, various licensees had varying purchasing rates. Products are purchased through the LDB Wholesale Customer Centre. Now, under the new wholesale pricing model, the varying discounts for different retailers will end, and all retailers (including BCLS, LRSs, IWSs and RAS) will be subject to the same wholesale pricing.

Read a detailed summary and FAQ.

View Liquor Control Board eligibility and licensing requirements.

Municipalities and the ‘Wine in BC Grocery Stores’ Policies

Because local municipal governments are undertaking their own liquor selling policy reviews, the process is lengthy and complicated. Municipalities will determine local rules regarding on-premise locations (such as hotels, pubs, restaurants) and buying product from wine stores or grocery stores instead of LCB stores. They will also determine local distance rules and grocery license eligibility. As an example, the city council of Maple Ridge recently addressed the issue of minimum distance between liquor outlets:

“At a Council Meeting held on July 28, 2015, in the City of Maple Ridge, Council directed staff to prepare a report implementing a minimum 1 kilometre distance rule (the 1-km Rule) through a Zoning Bylaw amendment for all future alcohol beverage retailers in Maple Ridge.”

“Council received a letter dated June 18, 2015 from the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) (see Appendix A) regarding Bill 22, the new Special Wine Store License Auction Act (see Appendix B). The Alliance expressed concern about the impact of wine sales in grocery stores on private liquor stores (referred to as “licensee retail stores” under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation). The Alliance noted that licenses issued under the new Act “are not subject to the 1 kilometre distance rule” (which contradicts the Ministry of Justice summary) and requested that the City “implement a minimum 1 kilometre distance rule for all future beverage alcohol retailers in Maple Ridge.”


The Ministry of Justice Has the Last Word

“Subject to the 1km rule, LRS licenses will be allowed to relocate into grocery stores, should they choose to do so, and subject to local government zoning.”


What Do BC Liquor Policy Changes Mean to Your Business Plans?

These BC liquor sales / wine in BC grocery stores policies may vary as you cross from one municipality into another. Knowledge of the provincial and municipal policies will make all the difference in planning if, for example, you are a business person planning to invest in private liquor sales business in BC.

We at Rising Tide Consultants, a leading BC liquor licensing consultant, are watching the current discussion with great interest to better help our clients. As you can see, the new policies, ongoing changes, and both provincial and municipal involvement, are difficult for most business owners and store managers to navigate. That’s what we do for our clients. We encourage you to consider our professional BC liquor and licensing advisory services if you have concerns about how these BC liquor sales policies will affect your current or future business plans.

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