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Beer Importing – Becoming an Agent

March 30th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Becoming an agent in Ontario (also known as “Manufacturer’s Representative”) is not as easy as declaring “I’m an agent now!” The first step in becoming an importer in this province is actually quite challenging, and I’ll explain why.

Agents are licensed by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the government body responsible for alcohol regulations and licensing. The AGCO approves licenses for agents, but also for brewers and pubs, amongst other things.

When looking at the forms required to become an agent they are pretty straightforward – personal and company information, personal history, corporate structure – that kind of thing. And the fee is only $30 for two years, not too bad either.

But the last item on the checklist of requirements is where things get weird – the Letter of Appointment. This is a “written confirmation from the beverage alcohol manufacturer(s) (on its letterhead) that it has appointed the applicant as its representative in Ontario.”

So hang on a second. In order to actually become an agent, you need a brewer who is willing to have you as their agent first? That’s the case in Ontario. I even called to confirm with the AGCO, who told me that was just the way it was. I was told to ‘sell myself’ to potential clients.

This was like getting my first job all over again. You can’t get the job without experience, but you can’t get experience without the job. So in order to become an agent, I needed to find a brewer who would have me as their agent, even though I didn’t have experience and wasn’t actually an agent.

I contacted a number of brewers late last year inquiring about Ontario representation. I explained that although I wasn’t technically an agent, I did indeed have a strong knowledge of the Ontario marketplace through The Bar Towel and was well prepared to take the leap into representation. Luckily I had The Bar Towel credentials otherwise it would have been definitely challenging to convince a brewer that I was prepared and had the knowledge to help them in this marketplace.

Thankfully I was able to link up with Garrison Brewing of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who after a number of discussions and valuable outside recommendations, agreed to have me as their agent in Ontario, which I am incredibly grateful for. I diligently completed my application forms, and was approved by the AGCO without any issues.

I do find it odd, however, that one must jump through this particular chicken-and-egg hoop to acquire a license. I suppose it is done to ensure that only serious applicants apply. But it is certainly a roadblock to getting in to this business – the first one I’ve had to face – and luckily able to overcome.

Tags: Importing

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Robert // May 24, 2009 at 5:47 am

    Is there an industry average for income.
    Maybe a better question would be are you as an agent paid by the case or in what form are most beer agents paid?

  • 2 Li Qing // Sep 29, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Great story and good to know, what is the next?

  • 3 Justin // Dec 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Does the same stipulations apply for importing beer from manufacturers outside of the country?