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LCBO Pre-Selection Process – They Don’t Want to Taste?

July 12th, 2010 · 17 Comments

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.

Tags: Government · Importing · LCBO

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17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rob // Jul 12, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    …determining beer based upon packaging and marketing alone? At this rate I’m surprised that they didn’t explicitly factor in the cup size of any models used in promotional material! Sounds like they want only macro-brewed beer!

  • 2 Chris // Jul 12, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Would you sell a car you had never driven, or serve a meal whose recipe you had never tasted? This is a farce. I’ve had plenty of great bears that have understated packaging and probably even more beers that have had flashy packaging and sales material that I would never have again or allow my friends to have.

    LCBO…you need to change this. Please give us confidence that since you have a monopoly that you will select products based on merit and not just marketing plans.

  • 3 Rico // Jul 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Honestly, do you think they know what they are doing to begin with? If Ontario brewers got their ducks in line they would force a way to market their products, as it’s their right to do so, on a Federal level. The LCBO is a lawsuit waiting to happen. The wineaus did it, and the brewers should follow suit.

  • 4 Kel Varnsen // Jul 13, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Of all the issues with the LCBO this seems like a very small one. Yes it is true I wouldn’t “sell a car you had never driven”, but at the same time I wouldn’t want to sell a car, or even test drive it if it looked like crap.

    Of course we all want good tasting beer, but if you were selling beer, would you really want good tasting beer that looks like homebrew with labels printed from a home printer and no marketing support at all behind it? It’s kind of the same reason why if I made a movie in my back yard, no matter how good it was, the local cineplex wouldn’t play it.

  • 5 Matt // Jul 14, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I am not sure I agree Kel, some of the best beers I have had from Quebec look like they were done on a home printer….

  • 6 Kel Varnsen // Jul 14, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Which is fine Matt, I am not saying that great tasting beer can’t come in any kind of package. What I am saying is if a large company wants to carry a product like beer (whether it be the LCBO or 7-11) just tasting great really isn’t enough. I mean breweries in Ontario, like Beau’s have shown that if you want to be really successful you have to actually promote your product and make it look good to consumers. If I am a store owner looking to carry a product, it would be important to know that I am not going to be the one who has to make all the effort to promote it to customers (especially when choosing between two products one that has good packaging and marketing and one that has poor packaging and marketing).

  • 7 admin // Jul 17, 2010 at 11:25 am

    I’m certainly not trying to say that packaging & marketing aren’t important – they’re critical to any kind of consumer packaged good success.

    But to make beer selection decisions without tasting beer? Seems a bit ridiculous and not serving the needs of the beer connoisseur, which the seasonal program is meant to address.

  • 8 Chris // Jul 18, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    The question is whether this is true of all other products the LCBO sells? Do they not taste wine and spirits? I don’t know the answer, but if it is across the board policy it is pretty unfortunate but at least consistent. If beer is unique in not being tasted, then they are unfairly singling out beer as less important. Anyone from the LCBO care to comment? I know they read this blog!

    What they are really saying is that taste doesn’t matter. They are telling brewers: if interested in selling beer in Ontario, then put most of your limited time, money and resources into packaging and marketing. If you happen to have a little of that left over, then make the beer taste good too, but really that’s optional. Too cynical? Perhaps. Do we have any other options in Ontario….oh yeah, the beer store, and we know how well they market non-macro beer!

    It’s a balance….a horrible tasting beer with great marketing and packaging should fail. But should a great beer with mediocre packaging be automatically rejected without consideration?

    Perhaps it is about transparency. The LCBO should let the public know which beers they reject simply for having inadequate packaging or marketing plans!

  • 9 Kel Varnsen // Jul 19, 2010 at 7:21 am

    I get what you are saying admin, but I would probably be a little bit more shocked by this situation if I thought that the LCBO was the only retail establishment that did this kind of thing. But in reality I highly doubt that someone at Loblaws tastes every food product that people submit to sell in their stores, I doubt that the bosses at Cineplex watch every movie that is submitted, I am sure that the people at blockbuster don’t watch every movie before deciding what movies to put in their stores. They look at things like previous success and marketing and then use that as a way to help decide. Not sure why the LCBO should be any different. And like I said of all the problems with the LCBO this seems like a very minor one.

  • 10 miguel // Jul 21, 2010 at 4:00 am

    i still don’t get the need for a marketing plan. isn’t the lcbo in charge of marketing the products they sell? is a small brewer from the u.s. or belgium supposed to take out magazine ads and radio spots to promote their beer at the lcbo?
    i think we’ve come to a point where the consumers are sophisticated enough to appreciate beer on it’s taste. all the lcbo needs is a few releases of snazzy looking bottles with crap inside to turn people off “specialty beer” and lcbo beer sales will suffer.

  • 11 Kel Varnsen // Jul 21, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Look at it this way miguel. Say you developed in your home the world’s best tasting breakfast cereal. Do you think you would just be able to walk into Loblaw’s headquarters and get someone to taste it? Probably not, since first they would want to know things like: how much can you supply, do you have a plan to market it (even something simple as having a website), what is your price point. If you couldn’t answer those questions and there was 79 other people doing the same thng that month do you really think they would take the time to taste your cereal?

    It’s the same reason people submit resumes for jobs. If a company is looking to hire someone, they don’t interview everyone who is interested do they?

  • 12 Organic Beer Lover // Jul 31, 2010 at 2:23 am

    It is very essential to taste the beer & then look into other details such as Pricing,Marketing,Labeling Etc. As People will buy the bber based on taste rather than marketing or labeling strategies.

  • 13 thoughtsofanAmericanFreeMarketeer // Aug 23, 2010 at 7:18 am

    How about a system where there is no control board, where private stores decide which brands they want to take a chance on, where private stores negotiate directly with producers and distributors on the cost, and where private stores charge whatever price they want.



  • 14 thoughtsofanAmericanFreeMarketeer // Aug 23, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Dismantle all liquor control boards.

    End monopolies.

    Enrich the people.

  • 15 insin // Aug 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    This isn’t surprising to me at all because it’s all about selling the product for the LCBO and marketing is a huge component when it comes to alcohol sales.

    This process for the LCBO is understandable yet sad at the same time. Look at the consistently top selling beers in Ontario. It obviously has nothing to do with taste. It’s marketing or the legally lowest price that works.

    I find this selection process a perfect example of why specialty beer/wine/liquor shops should be able to operate in Ontario. This is the only way that the true needs of consumers will ever be met. The LCBO can continue to sell their well marketed top brands to Sheep and the Content and the rest of us can do business with people who actually care.

  • 16 tim anderson // Jan 20, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    just wanted you all to know. the lcbo doesnt care about you .. they just like your money…

    They really love your money. Its the last legal organized crime ring in this country.

    Do they have to show you what serocis of the liver looks like , the same as cigarett companys have to show you The government of ontario is a pig …no different than a drug dealer ..

  • 17 Tiborski // Jul 19, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Election is coming, time to start something more radical, like a campaign to get rid of the monopoly, once for all. Bring Ontario into adulthood. Anyone skilled in social network media, lobbying , etc? Let’s talk!