In the United States, “green beer” typically means a food-dyed brew that accompanies a raucous March 17 St. Patty’s celebration. But north of the border, in Canada, it defines a century-old enterprise that purveys the libation in an environmentally friendly – and socially responsible – fashion. Dan Harvey raises his glass in salute to the Ontario-based business.
Let’s travel up to Ontario, Canada – a nice trip.
As anyone who has visited the region can attest, it’s one of the most beautiful areas in North America and the world. The province includes one of the world’s great cities – Toronto – and within this city is one of the wonders of the sport’s world: the Rogers Centre, a monumental stadium that people still call the SkyDome.
This multipurpose stadium located right off of Lake Ontario, hosts the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team among other sports teams. The stadium will provide the centerpiece of the 2015 Pan American Games. It’s an appropriate choice. One of the world’s greatest entertainment centers, the facility measures two million square feet.
We’re not relating this because we want to boost Toronto tourism. Rather, we want to provide some size perspective. The facility is large enough to house at least eight Boeing 747 aircrafts (if anyone ever wanted to do such a thing) and that should give you some idea of the enormity of the stadium’s interior. And this helps us explain one of the main focuses of The Beer Store, another of Ontario’s jewels.
The Beer Store, which has existed for about a century, represents the primary distribution and sales channel for beer in Ontario. It includes 440 stores, offers more than 350 beer brands and works with more than 80 brewers from around the world. But the Mississauga-headquartered operation does more than just sell beer. It’s a responsible operation that considers recycling one of its duties.
Recycling efforts are enormous, and this gets back to the purpose of the Skydome reference. “The amount of wine and spirits containers that we’ve recycled so far can fill up that stadium five times,” says The Beer Store President Ted Moroz. “We’re one of the world’s most environmentally friendly retailers and distributors. Everything we sell can be brought back, as we ensure that containers will be refilled. What can no longer be refilled will be recycled. Also, even though we sell beer, we also take back all of the wine and spirit bottles sold in Ontario. So reverse logistics are actually larger than what goes out of our doors.”
He provides more numbers. The company achieved a significant milestone. “We recently took back our one billionth wine-and-spirits container,” Moroz reveals. “We’re proud about that.”
But that figure doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what The Beer Store accomplishes. “We actually take in 2.1 billion containers – beer bottles, wine and spirit bottles – each year,” he reports.
Moroz provides additional perspective. “We were ‘green’ before ‘green’ was cool,” he says. “In fact, that’s our motto. The majority of bottles are refilled, so brewers can use them about 15 times before the bottles are no longer usable. When that happens, the glass is then recycled to form another glass bottle. That’s important, because when you look at the energy required to make new glass from virgin material, you’re using a lot more resources. Conversely, when you use recycled glass, you expend a lot less energy and raw materials. So, the equivalent is like taking about 32,000 cars a year off of the road. It is also equivalent to heating more than 30,000 homes a year in Ontario, where you have very cold winters.”
ENERGY EFFICIENT OPERATION
Why does the company do this? After all, it isn’t required to put forth such effort. “It’s simply the responsible thing to do,” Moroz answers.
The company’s environmental efforts extend to its own operations. “We don’t want to be just known for our great deposit return system, which is remarkable,” he says, referring to the Ontario Deposit Return Program, which The Beer Store initiated in 2007. “We are trying to transition the rest of our business into an even more environmentally responsible company. That’s where the energy efficiency efforts come in.”
About a year ago the company implemented energy efficient lighting. The Beer Store is also investigating ways to cool its signature product. “We like the fact that we can sell ice cold beer to customers, but we now want to make sure that we do that in an environmentally friendly fashion. One of the ways to accomplish that is by using outside air to chill the product. We have been testing such devices.”
Deployment of outside air could reduce the company’s energy consumption by as much as 50 percent. The Beer Store is also investigating usage of solar power, which might seem like an odd way to ice the beer. “It’s a cool idea,” relates Moroz, without any apparent irony.
Efforts extend to distribution. “We’re also working on making our truck fleet more energy efficient,” he continues. “We have a large truck fleet, and the vehicles are on the road every day, so we have invested in technology such as GPS units, so that the trucks won’t burn extra fuel when making deliveries.”
SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE SALES
The company’s sense of social responsibility extends to how it sells its product. Moroz describes: “We’ve made cold beer very easily accessible, as we have 440 retail stores throughout the Ontario province, so about 86 percent of the population is about a five-minute drive of being able to buy beer. However, we won’t sell to anyone who is underage or who appears intoxicated. Responsible sale is very important to us.”
How important? Company employees have refused service to more than 100,000 potential customers. So, the business is about much more than profit. The company has maintained this effort with its ID 25 program, and it also uses “mystery shoppers” to ensure that all employees adhere to the program. Further, The Beer Store has partnered with the Ontario Community Council on Impaired Driving. The partnership resulted in additional training for employees.
A UNIQUE OPERATION
The Beer Store is an interesting enterprise not just because of its social consciousness. It’s a unique operation. It was established in 1927, and resulted from the ill-advised and unsuccessful prohibition movement.
“When prohibition was coming to an end, the Ontario government decided it would sell and distribute wine and liquor,” relates Moroz. “But the government turned to the existing brewers at the time to sell and distribute beer.”
Today, The Beer Store sells it product under the authority of the Liquor Control Act, and it is owned by Labatt Brewing Company Ltd., Molson Coors Canada and Sleeman Breweries Ltd.
In its distinctive setup, the company operates on a cost-recovery basis with a standard fee schedule. Unlike other retailers, including the government-owned LCBO, The Beer Store does not pick and choose the products it sells, nor does it set the prices at which those products are sold. These choices are made by individual brewers. And the company’s system is an open one, but with common rules and service fees based on sales volume.
Two provincial government agencies – the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) – oversee certain aspects of The Beer Store operations, including minimum age for purchase, hours of sale, selling price, advertising and promotions, labeling, product integrity and approval of store locations. Any brewer in the world can sell their beer through The Beer Store, provided the product has been approved for sale in Ontario by the LCBO (and approval is based on quality, labeling and pricing). The Beer Store does not refuse access to any LCBO approved beer product. Brewers also select The Beer Store retail locations that they wish to sell in. Brewers can be in one store, 50 stores or all 440 locations.
Brewers that wish to sell through The Beer Store can pay a per-store listing fee or a single fee for the entire system depending on the number of stores they wish to sell in. The per-store listing fee was introduced to accommodate brewers whose primary interest was accessing localized markets (as opposed to the entire system).
“We service about 80 brewers in this completely open-door system,” describes Moroz. “The brewer can distribute on their own to our stores, or they can take advantage of our distribution capabilities. We have a large distribution arm that includes six centers in Ontario. These centers supply beer to more than 17,000 restaurants, bars and taverns. They also supply the government-owned liquor stores, so we distribute to those outlets as well.”
So, The Beer Store keeps the suds supply coming. As well, it provides numerous locations where the individual can stop in and buy that cold six-pack or case. But it does it in responsible fashion. After all, the brewing of beer – and its availability – is one of the few God-given blessings of our hard existence. It should provide pleasure, not pain. The Beer Store keeps the pleasure in proper perspective.
And we’ll drink to that.