Saanich grocer questions fairness of incoming B.C. liquor laws

Peppers Foods owner says government rule for minimum store size to sell B.C. VQA wines seems arbitrary

Peppers Foods owner John Davits wants clarification from the provincial government on the decision to permit the sales of B.C. wine in grocery stores over 10

A Saanich grocer is questioning the fairness of new liquor laws that restrict which businesses can sell B.C. wines based on a store’s size.

At 7,500 square feet, Peppers Foods in Cadboro Bay Village is below the 10,000-sq. ft. threshold that would allow it to sell B.C. VQA wines as of April 1 this year.

That fact has Peppers owner John Davits wondering whether his 4 p.m. shopping rush is going to be a little lighter come spring, and if lawmakers are overlooking the impact they’ll have on independent businesses.

“We don’t want to be the store that whines just to sell wine, we’re just a store that wants to see a fair and even playing field,” said Davits, who has owned Peppers since 1990. “We employ 75 people, we probably have sales that rival or exceed a lot of 10,000 sq. ft. facilities. I’m not sure how the government came up with the number without looking further.”

In addition to the 10,000 sq. ft. minimum, grocers who hope to sell B.C. VQA wines must have pure groceries sales of approximately 75 per cent, which aligns with recommendations made by parliamentary secretary John Yap during a liquor reform review last year.

In a statement, B.C.’s Justice ministry said that stipulation keeps the focus on traditional grocery stores, rather than convenience stores and general merchandise stores. The decision in effect also categorizes smaller grocery stores as convenience stores.

Davits said groceries account for 95 per cent of Peppers’ sales, and the remaining five per cent, classified as hair and beauty, is far lower than that of much larger grocery competitors. Among Davits’ chief worries is that the availability of wine at other grocers will divert regular customers during the 4 to 6 p.m. rush, as they’ll be able to get wine and food at the same stop. He worries once one habit is broken, another is formed.

“To me, 10,000 sq. ft. is a bit arbitrary. We’ve won Canadian Independent Grocer of the Year Awards for a long time for stores up to 15,000 sq. ft., not 10,000,” Davits said. “That’s not bragging, is just shows the way (the grocery) industry is measured independently.”

Peppers’ neighbour in the block of independent Caddy Bay businesses is the Smuggler’s Cove liquor store, which boasts one the most diverse wine selections in Greater Victoria. Smugglers owner Brian Dunt said the factor of competition with Peppers is a non-issue, but he questions the end goal of the government’s motives when it comes to liquor laws and independent companies.

Did you know?

  • B.C.’s current model allows 221 independently owned, full-service grocery stores to also operate as Rural Agency Stores selling liquor to communities not served by a private or B.C. Liquor Store.

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