Return of ‘buck-a-beer’ to Ontario panned by Manitoulin craft brewers

MANITOULIN—While Premier Doug Ford said beer fans across Ontario can officially start counting down the days until the return of ‘Buck-a-Beer,’ the popular $1 per beer price floor in the province, it is being panned by local craft brewers. 

“We were elected on a promise to reduce red tape and put the people first,” said Premier Doug Ford, who made the announcement on August 7. “This included a promise to bring ‘Buck-a-Beer’ back to Ontario. Today I am proud to say: promise made, promise kept.”Doug.

The move is being met with criticism by local craft breweries Split Rail Brewing Company and Manitoulin Brewing Company. 

“It’s impossible for a craft brewery,” stated Andrea Smith of Split Rail in Gore Bay. “We’ll continue with our pricing, and I think you will see very few craft brewers going to $1 a beer. 

“We feel that the ‘buck-a-beer’ announcement is incongruent with the craft beer movement and its commitment to quality, local communities) and social responsibility,” said Ms. mith. “Split Rail’s mission has always been to generate an exceptional product in a sustainable and socially responsible way. To do this we operate in very small batches, focused on quality rather than quantity. When these objectives are combined with rising costs in packaging and labour there is no economically viable way for Split Rail to generate a quality product retailed for a dollar.” 

“For us to retail buck-a-beer there would have to be a lot of incentives or cuts to costs on our end for us to be able to make that work,” Blair Hagman, of Manitoulin Brewing Company, told Northern Life in its August 9 edition. “Being in Northern Ontario, with the cost for distribution of grain and empty cans to get to Northern Ontario is a heavy cost in itself. With craft breweries we use all grain ingredients where as large scale macro breweries are using additives, and that makes our unit price to produce bear a lot higher.”

Under the buck-a-beer plan, brewers are not required to charge less and each brewer is able to set their own price.

The lower minimum price also does not apply to draft beer sold in restaurants and bars, nor does it include the bottle deposit. Cider, spirits and wine are exempt from the reduced pricing.

The government will be offering non-financial incentives such as premium shelf space and in-store displays at LCBO locations to those brewers that choose to take part in buck-a-beer.

Mr. Hagman told Northern Life that many beer drinkers are savvy when it comes to picking out their brew of choice. “A lot of people realize now that craft means quality and we’ve got a loyal following behind Manitoulin Brewing and other companies like ourselves. People can see behind the buck-a-beer that it’s not likely a good incentive to offer, especially when it comes to supporting local businesses.”

Mr. Ford, who was joined by Minister of Finance, Vic Fedeli, and Minister of Government and Consumer Service Todd Smith, announced that, effective August 27, Ontario’s ‘Government for the People’ will lower the minimum price floor to $1 for any beer with an alcohol volume below 5.6 percent.

“The days of the government putting its hand in your pocket each time you buy a two-four or six-pack is over,” said Mr. Ford. “Instead, we’re going to do what we said and we would do and put Ontario consumers first.”

The minimum retail price for beer was $1 in Ontario from 2005 to 2008. In 2008 the previous government decided to ban buck-a-beer by setting a higher minimum price and today the retail price floor sits at $1.25.