The LCBO seasonal product call process has been documented numerous times at Free Our Beer – we have been successful with Garrison’s submission into the Autumn 2010 release but unsuccessful with the Winter Warmers release. The basic process was pretty straightforward. An agent or brewery would submit to the LCBO beers for consideration along with the appropriate supporting details (marketing plan, pricing, case/shipping information, etc.). The LCBO would then taste the beers, make their selections for the releases and a new process would start for getting product onto shelves.
At the end of June this year, this process changed slightly, and it’s a bit concerning. In a letter to the trade, the LCBO has added a first step to the process in advance of the tasting. But what’s really happened is they have split the submission of the supporting details (marketing plan, etc.) and the beer itself. The process now is that the LCBO is first asking for “a photo of the product and packaging as well as relevant product and marketing information” but no beer samples at this stage.
As the letter goes on to state, “products selected to move forward to tasting will be accepted” and “all other products declined”. Only at this point, once the submitted beer(s) have been accepted, will they actually be tasted for final decision if they are to come to stores.
What makes this strange is that the LCBO seemingly will be making a first cut of decisions without actually tasting any beer. So, it would seem that beers will be evaluated on attributes but not what the beer tastes like! I can understand how pricing, packaging appeal and intended marketing spend are important variables in the business of beer sales. But considering that the seasonal beer program generally focuses on specialty beers, is not how they taste an important and critical consideration?
As this changed process has just been implemented, I cannot determine what percentage of submitted beers will be accepted for tasting based upon the initial submission. But on the surface it seems like the LCBO has implemented it to save themselves the hassle of tasting – after all, there were over 80 products submitted for tasting in the Winter Warmers release. I for one would love to taste all those beers before deciding what comes to stores. But it would seem that in the future beers with pretty packaging, a strong marketing spend and the right retail price will get preference over what actually tastes good. We will have to wait and see if this is the case.