Friday, June 19, 2015

Recent Craft Beer Price Hikes Nothing More Than BC Liberal Asshattery

"Let's put things in perspective: every month, some prices go up and some prices go down -- just as any other retail cost of good -- but we're talking about cents here." - Suzanne Anton as quote by Bill Tieleman in The Tyee June 9, 2015 concerning BC beer prices.
The Reality Since April 1, 2015:
  • 55 beer products deceased in price;
  • 19 beer products showed no change in price;
  • 94 beer products increased by less than 1%;
  • 219 beer products increased between 1% and 5%;
  • 123 beer products increased between 5.01% and 10%; and,
  • 74 beer products increased by more than 10%. ****

I know just a short month ago I stated I was packing it in as a blogger, but this latest BC Liberal move, which saw them randomly hike the prices of beers, mostly craft beers, without telling the breweries ahead of time or giving them a cut of the increase, has me foaming at the mouth and I feel compelled to vent here before I explode.

Damn you BC Liberals and your BC liquor policy reforms.

This latest price hike on June 2nd was a blatant kick in the crotch to BC craft beer consumers who have been the driving force behind the growth of the flourishing BC craft beer industry.

What an asshat move!

As a side note,  I am submitting to the Urban Slang Dictionary the following :
Asshat- (noun), definition, "BC Liberal politician".
Asshattery - (verb), definition, "actions taken by BC Liberal Party related to BC liquor reforms").

Okay, back on track now with  my rant...
Approximately 40 new breweries have opened in BC the past few years and many more are in the planning stages. Yes, BC breweries are producing world-class brews, but without consumers to purchase them these beers would most likely never be brewed commercially. As well, businesses and jobs associated directly and indirectly with the craft beer industry would not be supported or created, and local economies not spurred on in communities across the province.

I can just imagine the conversation in the BC Liberal Caucus meeting.

Question: "We need to increase government revenues folks, where can we screw the general public next?"
Response: "Well this craft beer seems to be selling well and has increased sales by about 40% over the past few years, why don't we just raise prices there? We don't need to tell anyone. Breweries are too busy making beer and consumers are too apathetic to do anything about it, not to mention, they are beer drinkers. We can just keep the difference. No one will notice..."

I wish the BC Liberals would at least buy me dinner and give me a little kiss before bending me over the table and, well, you know where I am going with that one. I'm going to let you fill in the blanks and keep this PG rated.

This price hike could finally be the move that kills the goose laying the golden eggs.

We already pay outrageous prices for craft beer in BC and this is not because of the craft breweries who produce it. There is a tipping point for prices where consumers get turned off (and pissed off) with the cost of the goods in question and begin to think long and hard about making purchases and look for other options.

In communities like mine, Powell River, craft beer is just becoming accepted in the mainstream thanks to our local brewery, Townsite, who have blazed the trail. There are many beer drinkers here just discovering craft beer and who are converting over from the mainstream lager swill that was the only choice in town for decades.

Restaurants, pubs and private liquor stores are just starting to support the industry and offer craft beer products regularly. Many businesses were previously hesitant to sell craft beer due to the fact that it was a new in this market and, more often than not, more expensive than the national brand lagers. Pricing is far more important in communities where jobs, especially higher paying jobs, are hard to come by.

Higher-priced products, due to the harsh reality of economics and family budgets, are a hard sell when there are cheaper, although inferior, options . Pricing craft beer beyond those consumer thresholds could stall out this industry in markets outside the major urban areas and tourist resorts.

This scenario is playing itself out in many communities around BC. Not every market is like Vancouver and the Lower Mainland where the consumers are used to paying ridiculously high prices. This move to increase prices yet again, just for the sake of increasing government revenue, will slow down sales in these smaller markets and could possibly confine the craft beer revolution's spread across the province.

Most of the smaller breweries operate with a slim profit margin and are trying to find the balance between making a reasonable profit and not alienating consumers due to price. Our liquor prices are artificially high in BC, boosted by our government who rake in hundreds of millions of dollars a year on booze. We are paying high prices because the government controls the final prices of booze in this province, not the manufacturers.

A prime example was just prior to the April 1st change over to the government's new alcohol pricing system. The Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) contacted craft breweries (and I am sure all booze manufacturers in the province) and gave them a chance to adjust their wholesale prices; the price manufacturers set to sell their products to the LDB. The catch was that the government was not telling the breweries how much the government was going to mark up these prices, so the breweries had no idea what the final price on their products would be on the shelves.

The brewery folks in BC literally had to guess as to how much consumers would be paying for their beer and were hoping they guessed right on their wholesale pricing. Setting the price too high (underestimating the mark-up) meant potentially alienating customers because of price increases and setting the price too low meant a decrease in revenue for the brewery for no reason whatsover.

But at least both the industry and consumers were aware that prices were about to shift April 1st and were, although in most cases unhappy, prepared.

The June 2nd, prices went up again for some craft beers without warning or consulting the craft beer breweries or explanation to consumers that this was government driven and not a decision from the breweries themselves. I know of one brewery partner who found out about the price hike when they saw the increased price of their products on the BC Liquor Store shelves!

And not a penny of the latest increase is going to the breweries.

Suzanne Anton and her crew in charge of all things boozy in BC keep up the mantra, of "don't worry, some prices will go up by a little, some will go down. This is the reality of the consumer market. It is only a few cents here and there..."

Yes Minister Anton, let's put things in perspective.

The reality is that since April 1st (stats from CAMRA Vancouver update):
  • 10% of Beer products have dropped in price.
  • 3% of Beer products have shown no change
  • 87% of Beer products have increased in price

If you look at which products have been increased, the majority are craft beer products made here in BC. How the Hell is that a sign that the government is supporting the BC craft beer industry and small businesses, under which category most craft beer breweries fall under?

These price hikes are stacked on top of the price hikes many BC communities endured last year when the BC Liberals reintroduced "happy hour" which they paired up with new minimum drink price scheme (click here to read) which impacted those going out to a licensed establishment for a drink.

Now we are getting nailed on our take home purchases.

I am sick and tired of the cynical and entitled nature of this government. Their liquor policy reform consultations were supposed to be held to help find out the wants and needs of British Columbians and alochol industry stakeholders. I am quite certain not one craft beer consumer put forward they wanted multiple price increases applied to their favourite beers. I am also certain not one craft brewery representative put forward the desire to have craft beer prices go up while brewery profit margins stayed the same or decreased slightly.

Wake up consumers. Start writing letters, e-mails to those in charge. Start letting your local MLA, no matter what party they are from, know this is unacceptable. If not, we are going to continue to see the BC Liberals choke off the industry until it stalls out due to decreased sales secondary to ever-increasing prices.



(****statistics from the Campaign for Real Ale of BC - Vancouver Branch)





Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's a Wrap

Four and a half years ago I decided to combine two of my great loves, writing and craft beer, and the VanEast Beer Blog was born. When I started, I had no real idea what I wanted to focus on, but my interest in politics and my connections in the craft beer industry soon sent The VEBB down the political road and I was lucky to be writing during some very interesting and tumultuous times in the evolution of both the BC craft beer industry and BC liquor policies.

Many times it was my friends in the craft beer industry who fed me inside information about issues and problems. They came to me because they could not, or would not speak out because of a very real fear of reprisal from the BC liquor bureaucrats and they knew I would speak out loudly knowing I was out of reach. To all of you, and you know who you are, thanks for feeding me such great leads and tips that allowed me to make a few politicians, liquor inspectors or LCLB-LDB brass squirm for a few moments when their complete and total lack of common sense was exposed.

This blog has never been wildly popular but judging from the comments and e-mails I did receive, I found a dedicated following among many of the politicians and bureaucrats involved in forming, implementing and policing BC liquor policy and craft beer industry shakers and movers.

And probably more surprising to me, the mainstream media began to monitor what I was writing and on several occasions took a post I had written and ran with it, sometimes, much to my amusement, blatantly lifting words from this space and placing them in a more highly visible place in their television or print reports.

Not all have agreed with what I have written, but that is the nature of writing about contentious subjects, especially when personal opinions are put forth. I tried my best to use my journalism background to investigate what I was writing about but I could never resist including some sort of Paddyrant and those who know me know that I can be fairly straightforward and blunt when the mood strikes me.

I am proud of what this blog has accomplished in regards to highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of the BC craft beer and liquor industries and the policies that govern them. I am pleased I have been able to help out a few friends when they needed a little help from someone outside the reach of the politicians and bureaucrats.

And I take a certain satisfaction, as I mentioned above, that I have been a major pain in the ass for a few of those who contribute to the asshattery that takes place related to BC liquor policies and the enforcement of same.

But as you have probably guessed, the time has come to shut this space down, well, at least as far as new content goes. My growing family responsibilities, work responsibilities and time spent having fun growing Powell River's Campaign for Real Ale of BC branch takes up more than enough time to make it very difficult for me to spend the time and resources to keep the VanEast Beer Blog going. It may not seem like writing a few words now and then would be time consuming, but trust me, it took a lot of time and effort to produce most blog posts I posted.

Not that it matters. There are many out there writing about beer. And let's face it, this was always just about craft beer and my love for it and to tell you the truth, I'd much rather be enjoying a craft beer on my deck while chatting to friends than writing about it.

I will still be around, still involved in advocating and supporting BC-brewed craft beer. I am still involved with the Campaign for Real Ale of BC, at least through 2015 and will still be found sipping a Fat Tug or two craft beer spots around the province.

So thanks to all who have supported this blog, whether you were a fan of what I said or read it in order to get pissed off and voice extreme dislike for me as a blogger and in some instance, as a person.  I think the comments highlighting how misinformed and stupid I was brought as much joy and motivation to me as those who voiced positive support.





Monday, September 29, 2014

End Moratorium on LRS Licenses to Stop Exodus From Rural Areas - Quick, Easy Fix

I don't know why it took so long for people to figure out the negative impact the elimination of the "no more than five kilometre" rule for the buying and relocating of private liquor store (LRS) licenses would have on rural areas in BC.

In Friday's Vancouver Sun, an article appeared with the headline "Liquor licenses being sold in anticipation of new rules" which has caused a bit of a stir in some rural communities and among those who are interested in the BC retail alcohol industry.

This is not really breaking news as this situation has been bubbling and boiling for months now, even before the change to the BC liquor laws concerning relocating LRS licenses was announced last March by Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) General Manager, Douglas Scott.

The old policy (which is still in place until some time next year) states that a LRS license can be sold and relocated, but that the new location can be no more than five kilometres from the old location. This ensured rural areas would not be abandoned and that there would not be an over-concentration of LRS locations in urban areas. The new policy, which is set to come into effect sometime in 2015, states that LRS licenses can be purchased then moved anywhere in BC, as long as they are not moved to within one kilometre of an existing LRS, government liquor store (GLS) or rural agency store (RAS).

My immediate thought at that time of the announcement was that LRS owners in smaller, rural areas, where commercial property is much cheaper than in urban areas, must be ecstatic as the value of their businesses just skyrocketed. In fact, before the announcement was made, I know there were big city types sniffing around in my town of Powell River, attempting to buy existing LRS locations and I do not think they were planning on leaving the big city for the fresh air and ocean views of the Sunshine Coast.

Obviously they were in the know and had been tipped off that this change was coming and they were trying to get in before the LRS prices trended upwards in the hinterlands of BC.

I remember sitting in my local, The Red Lion Pub, one of the LRS locations mentioned in the Sun article, discussing this fact with friends over a beer just after I had heard the planned law changes. It was as plain as day to me that sharp business folks were going to shop about in cheaper rural areas to buy LRS licenses and then move them out of their communities to more lucrative urban markets. The big city purchasers of these licenses do not care that the locals in the small communities are getting screwed and will be highly inconvenienced by the moving of their local LRS.

It was also obvious to me that smart LRS owners were going to increase the price of their businesses, if they were looking at selling, or be tempted to sell as their business was suddenly much more valuable and desirable on the market. LRS licenses are already a much-coveted commodity due to the moratorium on granting new licenses in BC and with the new policy, a LRS in Smalltown, BC was closer in value to those in say Vancouver, due to the fact that there were far less restrictions on relocating them.

This inflated value of all LRS locations and the and exodus of same from rural communities can all be blamed on moratorium on granting new retail liquor licenses. I see the solution to this problem as being quite simple - if a LRS license is sold and relocated more than a kilometre away, allow for another LRS license to be approved for the location where the license was moved from to replace that service for local consumers. The policy could stipulate that the new license could not be tied to anyone who had a financial stake in the license which had been sold and relocated to stop people from just opening up LRS locations and flipping them to those who want to relocate that license. The government could even put a stipulation that the new LRS license could not be relocated for five years...Hell, make it 10 years!

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) should have been yelling loudly at the government during their recently held convention but they were too distracted by the more pressing issues of saving rural, coastal communities by trying to right the BC Ferries shipwreck.

I think that allowing LRS licenses to be relocated anywhere in BC is not a bad decision, provided the government allow for the replacement of that service in the community the LRS is moved from.

As I have said in the past, BC liquor policy needs to make sense for all of British Columbians, not just those who live in urban areas.

Small BC communities are already struggling to attract and hang on to viable businesses and this stupid, short-sighted change to liquor policies is going to do just the opposite by encouraging small town business owners to flog their LRS's at falsely-inflated prices, to those who have no plan to keep that business in an area where it is much needed. Once again it is the consumers who are getting shafted by the BC Liberal liquor law reforms - specifically the consumers in rural areas. Like with the increase in the minimum drink price, which has impacted many rural areas negatively by driving the price of beer up, those who are drafting the new policies did not look at the impact this would have on British Columbian alcohol consumers outside urban areas.

Or if they did, the Liberals simply did not care that rural consumers, who already have limited choices, would be further limited and their communities without a successful business which provided  much-needed employment and services.

I cannot blame those who own LRS locations in small towns or those who wish to buy these licenses and move them. They are business people trying to maximize their assets. They are doing nothing shady or illegal. They are doing what is allowed under the law.

Those owners in small communities will have to deal with the fallout of selling what potentially could be the only LRS license in the area which would leave their neighbours and those they bump into on a daily basis without an outlet to buy booze outside of the local BC Liquor Store's restricted hours or the limited selection at the local rural liquor store (RAS) if there is one. But some cold stares and snide comments will be a little easier to take for these business folks due to the fact they probably were paid far more than they ever imagined they would get for their business.

Lift the moratorium and this all goes away. Those wishing to sell can still make a pretty penny for their businesses to be bought and relocated but at least there would be a mechanism in place for consumers in small towns to be somewhat protected.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Federal Government Want to Make Sure a Pint is a Pint - Maximum Fines of Up to $50,000 for Repeat Short-Pour Offenders Now Federal Law.

"You're entitled to get what you pay for"  - Industry Canada

The Campaign for Real Ale of BC's (CAMRA BC) Fess Up to Serving Sizes (#FUSS) Campaign received some unexpected help August 1st when the Canadian Federal Government launched their "Fairness at the Pumps" Campaign.

Fairness at the Pumps states, "(e)ffective August 1, 2014, the law states that businesses who short sell consumers, on purpose or through carelessness, can face penalties or court-imposed fines of up to $50,000."  

The information on Industry Canada's website, which clearly includes draft beer servings in the campaign, encourages consumers to file a complaint if they suspect they are "not getting what they paid for" and provides instructions as to what information is required to help Measurement Canada investigate and a link to file the complaint electronically, by telephone or by snail mail. They are even using the hashtag #getwhatyoupayfor in tweets, something I would recommend consumers do so Industry Canada can track interest regarding this new law.


instruction on how to file an official complaint if you suspect you have been short-poured

It also appears that CAMRA BC's #FUSS Campaign is finally being acknowledged by the BC Liberal Government who included the following in their last liquor policy update concerning lowering the minimum drink price for serving sizes of over 50 ounces for draft beer and cider:
"Pubs and restaurants serve draught beer and cider in a variety of sizes - generally, 9 oz., 16 oz. or 20 oz. glasses, or by the pitcher (approximately 60 oz.). If unsure, British Columbians are encouraged to ask establishments what their serving sizes are, so they can be sure of the per-ounce price they are paying and be better aware of the amount of alcohol they are consuming.
  • As part of the terms of their licence, B.C.’s licensed establishments must have a drink list available to consumers that outlines their serving sizes.
Until this announcement the BC Liberals have brushed off CAMRA BC's complaints that many pubs and restaurants do not declare their serving sizes and if they do list them, they do so inaccurately. Although they do not  state they are going to enforce the law and put the ball clearly in the court of the consumer to follow up, the Liberals have at least acknowledged publicly to consumers this serving size list requirement exists and also have acknowledged that not knowing how much alcohol you are consuming can impact consumers in a negative way, something CAMRA BC has been pointing out to the LCLB & the Liberals for years.

Now it appears that Industry Canada is ready to go to bat for draft beer consumers in our country but here in BC the only fly in the ointment is that if the LCLB does not enforce strictly the need for posted serving sizes, and a licensee has no listed serving size, then consumers cannot complain they are being short-poured as they will not know what a full-pour measure is.  

For the Measurement Canada to able to investigate a serving size issue, they need to know what that serving size is supposed to be. 

Conveniently, the Liberals left out the information that if a licensee cannot produce a serving size-price list for their alcoholic beverages, you can make a formal complaint to the LCLB at lclb.lclb@gov.bc.ca or by calling 1-866 209-2111 and they are compelled to send a liquor inspector to investigate and enforce the law.

Both levels of government have put the burden of responsibility onto consumers who they are advising to file complaints if draft beer servings are short-pour or misrepresented. If you really want to make sure a pint is a pint and stop this practice of misrepresenting serving sizes and short pouring by some licensees, you need to take action and file an official complaint. 

Both the Canadian Government and BC Provincial Government have opened the door, acknowledged there is an issue and given consumers the information they need to kick in that door for good, but it is up to consumers to ensure they get what they pay for.

If you are short-poured or an establishment does not have a serving size list when you ask for one, try to resolve the issue by talking to the management of the establishment in a polite manner. If you still cannot resolve the issue to your satisfaction, put the government bureaucrats to work and file a complaint.

It be fantastic to be able to say you live in a province where a pint is a pint!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Close But No Cigar - Draft Beer Pitchers Minimum Price Lowered But Status Quo for Everything Else

They were so close to doing the right thing but in the end the BC Liberals did little too correct their epic failure regarding new drink price minimums in BC.

In what can only be described as a knee-jerk reaction to negative feedback received concerning the controversial liquor drink price minimums announced June 20th, the BC Liberals send out a notice today that they were , "(c)reating a new category for draught beer and cider servings 50 oz. and over - with a minimum price of $0.20 per oz," to "better meet the expectations of British Columbians". 

Today's announcement stated that draught beer servings over 50 oz (1420ml), otherwise known as pitchers, will have a minimum drink price set at $0.20 per ounce/28ml but all other draught beer serving sizes will remain at new minimum of $0.25 per oz/28ml which is by far the highest in Canada.

For the record, even the new pitcher category, at $0.20 per oz/28ml is still the highest beer minimum in Canada. 



Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform, John Yap, was quoted in the announcement as saying, 
"The B.C. Liquor Policy Review has been centred on listening to the views of British Columbians and industry stakeholders, and best aligning any changes we make with their views. Upon reviewing B.C.’s minimum prices, we realized they weren't on par with consumers’ expectations and we took action to find a fair compromise that still upholds B.C.’s high standards for health and safety.”
I am curious how he came to the conclusion that encouraging consumers to buy the biggest serving size possible "upholds B.C.’s high standards for health and safety"?

Imagine this conversation:

Friend 1: "I see that a pitcher is cheaper by the ounce than a 16-oz sleeve! I was just going to have one sleeve but why don't we order the pitcher so we can take advantage of this great deal?"

Friend 2: "Yeah, I was just going to have one as well, but to Hell with it, lets get the pitcher. One or two extra beers never caused anyone any harm...by the way, are you driving home?"

As craft beer drinkers, this change will impact us in a very limited way. Very few craft-beer-friendly places serve pitchers as most craft beers are stronger in alcohol so licensees do not feel it is appropriate to offer the bigger serving sizes. In fact, fewer and fewer licensees are even offering pitchers any more as, more often than not, draught beer serving sizes are being reduced to the ever-shrinking "sleeve" glass.

This change will give some slight relief to those who enjoy the mainstream lagers that have dominated the Canadian market for decades but, as mentioned, they will still be paying far more for their happy hour pitchers than in other provinces in Canada.

This is a bizarre move by Justice Minister-Attorney General, Suzanne Anton and Yap and I really wonder if they do think they are "listening" to British Columbians and that this change will placate the masses who are seriously pissed off about the June 20th minimum drink price-happy hour announcement. Don't get me wrong, today's announcement is a baby step in the right direction, but at the end of the day, I would have to say that the BC Liberals and those dealing with the liquor policy reforms have shit the bed once again.

They cannot really believe we are that stupid to believe this small, token change fixes the EPIC FAIL that is our new minimum drink price standards.

I will be writing more on this subject over the weekend but just wanted to get a quick post out there to let everyone know what was going on.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stateside Craft Does the Right Thing by Their Customers

At least one Commercial Drive beer joint recently caught short-pouring customers have made a considerable effort to "serve it right" to give their customers what they are paying for and as a result have received  #FUSS Approved status from the Vancouver branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) of BC.

Stateside Craft, located at 1st Avenue and Commercial Drive, have changed their glassware to a larger size in order to ensure they can fully deliver on their promised serving size of draft beer after it was posted on social media a few weeks ago that they were serving 12-oz pours when they were claiming serving sizes of 14 ounces.

Stateside had been advertising 14 ounces, but in fact, their glasses filled to the brim were capable of holding that volume so with head, as is essential with a good pour, and a little space to make sure the beer did not spill over when transported to the table, the pour came in at 12 ounces. This practice of advertising the glass capacity and not the actual volume of beer poured is a widespread practice in BC that actually puts licensees at odds with the law according to Measurement Canada.

I know 2 ounces does not sound like much, but for a 14-oz beer that is $7, which is not uncommon in craft beer places in Vancouver, being 2 oz short is the equivalent of short-pouring by $1  before tax and tip. Add that up over a year and see how much money for nothing you may be forking out at places skimming off the top of their beer servings.

Almost immediately after the short-pour video hit social media, Stateside representatives stated they would right the wrong and it appears they have followed through.

CAMRA Vancouver president, Adam Chatburn, who was on the original measuring adventure, went back to Stateside July 15th and found that the glassware had indeed changed. The measure posted also had changed from 14 oz to 400,000,000,000 picolitres, a cheeky but valid use of the metric system that is legal and works out to 400 ml or about 14 oz. Chatburn measured his beer and found the serving to be, "spot on." (see post here) He also found, that except for the cider, which is a very high quality and high priced item, the beer prices had not changed. 


Stateside have turned a negative into a positive by doing the right thing
and fixing serving size-pour issues. Lets hope they get consumer support
& other craft beer places follow suit

"It just shows that establishments that are committed to the craft beer community are prepared to do the right thing and give consumers the beer they promised," stated a very pleased Chatburn who posted here to give Stateside praise. "Congratulations to Stateside Craft and thanks for stepping up and doing the right thing for consumers, it’s businesses like this who are leading the way serving craft beer. 

Chatburn hopes this change to honest and accurate pours will garner consumer support and states in his post, 
"if you've not been there  (Stateside) yet I can give them the #FUSS seal of approval so you know that when you put your money down you’ll get every last picolitre of beer (or amazing cider) you paid for."

Stateside Craft was one of several Commercial Drive establishments found to be serving less beer than their serving sizes indicated when Chatburn and a friend headed out armed with a calibrated cup, high definition camera, their smart phones, a thirst for beer and a healthy curiosity on July 5th. The pair posted their findings, including videos (click here & go to bottom of page), immediately on social media which caused a bit of a stir in the Vancouver craft beer community. Out of all the tests posted that day from five different establishments, only one pour hit the mark, that being Tangent Cafe's 12-oz pour. The rest fell short of the promised volume including a "pint" at Vera's Burger Shack which measured only 16 ounces.

In Canada, if a pint is advertised, it must be 20 imperial ounces if ounces are used to indicate volume and that does not include head.

As a consumer, I know I will support the Hell out of Stateside for making this move, as long as they continue to offer up accurate serving sizes & pours and hope other craft beer consumers do as well. I also hope other licensees in the craft community take note of what Stateside have done and get on board with CAMRA BC's #FUSS Campaign and give their customers what they are paying for.

Chatburn is continuing to hit Vancouver area establishments who serve draft beer and carry out is "research". This move is apart of the CAMRA BC Fess Up to Serving Sizes (#FUSS) a consumer advocacy campaign aimed at getting licensees to post their draft beer serving sizes and then deliver the posted volume of beer. The #FUSS Campaign was mounted to try to combat the widespread practice of misrepresenting serving sizes and short pouring here in BC. The Campaign for Real Ale of BC are an independent, consumer advocacy group, with approximately 1,500 paid members, championing the rights of BC's craft beer consumers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justice Minister Brushes Off Beer Consumer's Complaints About Being Cheated

British Columbia's Attorney General and Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, recently told craft beer consumer
advocates, the Campaign for Real Ale  (CAMRA) of BC, that consumers are on their own, as far as she is concerned, if they feel they are being cheated or mislead about the serving size of their draft beer.

In a response to a letter sent by CAMRA BC to Anton (read here), imploring her to endorse CAMRA BC's Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign and to consider making a few more much-needed changes to the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch (LCLB) policies to help protect consumers and promote public health and safety, Anton wrote, via e-mail,
 "If a customer is not pleased with the service in an establishment, they have the choice of raising the issue with the licensee or taking their business to other bars or restaurants"
As a BC consumer, it does not make me feel very confident when the province's Justice Minister appears to be condoning or ignoring business practices that see consumers being defrauded and purposely mislead and misinformed about what they are purchasing.

In their letter, CAMRA BC also suggested having a policy requiring certified marked glassware, with "fill to here" (plimsol) lines indicating the volume, and having the alcohol content of beer (ABV) added to the legally-required serving size list. CAMRA BC believes that by making these two changes to BC liquor policy, along with the enforcement of the serving size list requirement, consumers and servers will better know exactly how much alcohol is being served and consumed which will help them better monitor over-serving and over-consumption, important in BC with the popularity of higher alcohol craft beers, strict Serving it Right rules for alcohol and tough drinking and driving laws.

Anton's response, which you can read in full here, was, at best, a brush off and seems to indicate that the Justice Minister and/or her staff:

  • did not read the letter
  • read the letter and did not understand what CAMRA BC was getting at 
  • read the letter and simply did not care that BC draft beer drinkers are being lied to, short-poured and defrauded when it comes to draft beer serving sizes in this province.
  • have no real interest in truly striking a balance between consumer wants/needs and public health and safety
Even though the focus of the letter was on getting enforcement concerning serving-size-price lists, Anton did nothing more than point out what CAMRA BC already knew, that this legal requirement for a list exists, and stated, "beyond that, government's focus is not on the array of serving sizes found within the province."

It seems to me that the Justice Minister is saying, "yes, we have that law, but no, we are not going to enforce it. We trust you, licensees of BC." 

To borrow an analogy from CAMRA Vancouver president, Adam Chatburn, isn't that like posting a speed limit then nailing a sign below the posted speed saying, "but don't worry, we aren't enforcing this. We trust you to comply with the speed limit"? 
Justice Minister Anton says
no to gov't required plimsol
lines for draft beer glasses

In addition, Anton advised CAMRA BC the BC Liberals would not consider requiring the use of certified, marked glassware, stating, 
"Government's resources and focus lay heavily on public safety issues, such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, illegal activities, and so forth.  It would be a burden for provincial liquor inspectors and police to measure glassware in addition to their other duties."
Would liquor inspectors and police not have more time on their hands to deal with public safety issues, like such as over-crowding, minors accessing alcohol, public disturbance, etc, because they would NOT be burdened with measuring volumes in glassware because those that certified the glassware and placed the plimsol (fill-to-here) lines had already done that!

With the minimum price of a glass of beer tied directly to volume, $0.25/oz or 28ml due to new BC minimum drink price legislation, would the government not have a vested interest in knowing if licensees are reporting proper serving sizes so that the government gets an accurate amount of alcohol tax?

I don't understand a government that passes a policy tying drink prices to volumes served when they have no interest in the volume of serving sizes in the first place.

I know many licensees who think marked glassware is a great idea and the perfect way to level the playing field between unscrupulous licensees and those who want to serve it right and be honest.

Although there is a cost attached to replacing glassware, if brought into effect over a period of time so glasses could be replaced through normal wear & tear & attrition, the cost would be less burdensome to licensees. And although there is a shortage of suppliers at the moment providing glassware with plimsol lines, I am sure some clever business  person would quickly fill the void if they new that using such glasses was going to be a legal requirement for all licensed establishments.

For those not familiar with CAMRA BC's FUSS Campaign, the consumer advocates have been pushing the LCLB, which Anton is currently responsible for, to enforce their policy that all liquor licensees, in the Justice Minister's own words, "must have a list available showing drinks, drink sizes and prices," in order to give consumers the information necessary to make informed decisions and to help eliminate the misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes.

The campaign was started in 2011 by the CAMRA BC Vancouver branch who were being inundated with complaints from consumers (some members, some not) that there was wide-spread misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes - being told they were ordering a certain volume of beer and being served much less - and that the serving size list requirement was basically being ignored so consumers had no idea what volume of beer they were ordering before it actually arrived at the table.

The government talks about striking a balance between consumers needs and public health and safety yet they continue to ignore and brush aside complaints about dubious practices by some licensees which impact public health and safety negatively and violate consumers' rights. This call to enforce the existing law and make these changes would benefit everyone...except the dishonest licensees whose practices are now forcing industry-wide fraud as everyone must complete in the marketplace and being honest puts a licensee at risk of looking bad and losing customers.

BC beer consumers should be outraged that the BC Liberal Government, via their Justice Minister-Attorney, are completely ignoring this issue. Not all consumers care, but there are a great many who do. Not all licensees are unscrupulous, but those who aren't are feeling pressure to use questionable methods of making their draft beer pricing more attractive to consumers.

For the life of me, I do not understand why the LCLB and the Provincial Government do not take this problem seriously.

Maybe if if 1/2-litre carafes of wine started arriving with 350ml in them or 1.5 oz servings of scotch were arriving in one-ounce measures we might see some action...