Farm Boy wine sales to focus on products unavailable in LCBO

For Ottawa-based Farm Boy, selling wine will be another way to offer local products to its customers, says CEO Jeff York.

By Jacob Serebrin

“It’s another thing we can offer our customers and we can merchandize it in a unique way,” he says. “We want to have it because it goes really well with our value offering and cheese and specialty products.”

Last week, the provincial government announced that Farm Boy and 12 other grocers will be allowed to apply for licences to sell wine in their stores.

Up to 70 individual grocery stores will be licensed during the first round and could start selling wine as soon as Oct. 28.

For Farm Boy, the plan is to offer customers “local products they might not be able to find in the LCBO or other retailers,” Mr. York says.

The new rules don’t allow for much flexibility when it comes to margins.

“It’s not about pricing the product, because you’re pricing it at the LCBO pricing, and they’re the wholesaler too, so there’s no flexibility on cost,” Mr. York says. “You differentiate with merchandising and introduction of products to your customers and convenience.”

Farm Boy was also one of the first Ontario grocery stores to get permission to sell beer. Three of its locations have had beer on the shelves since December.

Mr. York says Farm Boy has taken a similar approach with its beer offerings as it plans to take with wine.

“It’s prominently focused on the craft beers, with a local flavour,” he says.

While changes to the way alcohol is sold in Ontario have been slow, he says getting licensed hasn’t been that difficult.

“It’s like anything when you have multiple parties at the table, it’s a process. It’s probably easier than getting a building permit sometimes,” Mr. York says.

The province plans to allow up to 300 grocery stores to sell wine by 2025 and Mr. York says he doesn’t expect that plan to change.

“This is the first wave and then it’s going to keep expanding,” he says. “They’re just following the script that they’ve laid out. We wanted to get in at the beginning and do a good job with it.”