Loblaws poised to enter Sask. liquor market after Oct. 8

WATCH ABOVE: Soon, new players will be able to enter the Saskatchewan liquor market including grocery giant Loblaws. David Baxter has the details.

New private liquor retailers, including grocery giant Loblaws, will soon be able to enter the Saskatchewan market. This is because a two year moratorium on selling retail permits ends on Oct. 8.

In 2016, the Saskatchewan government announced permit holders for 50 new private retail stores; 39 were formerly owned by the SLGA.

Best Western Seven Oaks owner Glenn Weir has an offsale in his hotel. He’s past chair of the Saskatchewan Hotel & Hospitality Association (SHHA) and vice chair of the Regina Hotel Association (RHA). With all liquor permits potentially for sale, there’s been a lot of industry chatter.

“What we do know for sure from people that we’ve talked to around the industry is that the bigs are out there buying offsales,” Weir said. “We anticipate there are six sales that are taking place from smaller offsales in Regina, and are then going to be moved to places like the Loblaws and then the Sobeys.”

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Loblaws has confirmed they are looking at opening stores in four locations: Regina, Moose Jaw, Yorkton and Saskatoon. They could not provide further details at this time.

“Everything has been kept confidential until after [Oct. 8], when I guess we’ll know who did sell and who wishes they sold,” Weir said.

4 Seasons owner George Yannitsos said he hasn’t received an offer for his permit. The 4 Seasons is Regina-based sports bar and restaurant with an adjoining offsale.

4 Seasons owner George Yannitsos says he is ready for increased competition from bigger liquor retailers like Loblaws.
4 Seasons owner George Yannitsos says he is ready for increased competition from bigger liquor retailers like Loblaws. Derek Putz/Global News

When the new regulations were introduced two years ago Yannitsos expanded his offsale to take advantage of cheaper wholesale prices and the anticipated competition growth.

“It’s one of the most competitive industries out there, and the competition is just going to heat up,” Yannitsos said.

He plans on remaining competitive in a changing sector, but understands why others may be selling their licenses. Rumored offers and deals have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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“You have to give it some thought. This entry point is only going to happen once. I honestly believe Regina, and for that point Saskatchewan are very well served. I don’t think you have to drive very far to find a neighbourhood place, and these big players are going to come in,” Yannitsos said.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan government names owners of 50 private liquor stores

On behalf of the SHHA and RHA, Weir said that they don’t want to see more retail permits added.

According to SLGA Minister Gene Makowksy, there are over 700 retail permit holders in Saskatchewan, including the 36 government owned stores. He said there will be no new permits announced on Oct. 8, but they haven’t been ruled out.

“We require a new framework for allowing new permitees within the province if there is a need and what mechanism and we will use. That will be announced in the near future,” Makowsky said.

As for the ability to sell permits, Makowsky said the expanded private system has shown that people are looking to invest in Saskatchewan’s liquor market and the government wants to see that continue.

SLGA critic Nicole Sarauer said that in drafting public policy around alcohol, public health should be kept in the forefront.

“We have some real concern when it’s private industry that’s taking precedence over public health when we have high rates of drinking and driving in the province,” Sarauer said. “We want to ensure that any sort of measures being made with alcohol regulation are done so thoughtfully.”

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Future of public liquor stores

With all of these changes to the private liquor retail sector, the 36 remaining publicly owned SLGA stores have assurance they will remain open at least until the current union contract expires, approximately three years.

“Just as we have been for the last several months, we’ll continue to monitor the SLGA retail stores and their profitability and their efficiency, those sorts of things as we go forward,” Makowsky said.

With this short term guarantee of remaining in the market, Sarauer said the government should be doing what they can to help ensure the SLGA stores remain competitive with the growing private sector.

“The employees actually have some really good ideas for how those stores can be modernized. The growler stations in particular was a positive step forward, but it’s very limited in where those stations opened up and how many there were,” Sarauer said. “When we’re seeing a growing craft beer market in the province we could see more steps like that.”