About wine sales at the LCBO

About four years ago I wrote a piece on this exact subject, but since recently receiving numerous emails regarding the same issue, I’ll address it here again.

You’re in the LCBO shopping for wine and you notice certain items on sale. Great, but odd, considering the LCBO is the only game in town and completely controls alcohol distribution! I usually receive regular bulletins from the LCBO informing me that certain products are going up a few cents and others are coming down. I simply assume this has something to do with taxes and other political and monetary fluctuations. Aside from producer, country or wine region promotions to highlight and bring attention to specific wines, one has to wonder why others actually get cut in price.

One of the most common reasons is to make warehouse and shelf space at the store level. Occasionally, the monopoly buys too much of a specific product and it doesn’t move fast enough through the retail system. They’ll reduce the price to help move it out, making room for other wine, both in storage and at the store. This may also apply to current vintages of a specific wine as new vintages of it arrive. Simply move the old vintage out so the new one can replace it. Seasonal specific product needs to be moved out to make room for the next season’s product as well.

Occasionally, a specific portfolio (Burgundy, for example) has too much representation overall compared to other regions, so a reduction in many wines of that portfolio might be initiated.

Merchandising and placement of product in stores is detrimental to sales. Poorly displayed wines may not be noticed, so sales suffer. These might get reduced in price to draw attention to them.Sometimes a product, regardless of quality, simply does not sell, so its price is reduced to move it along. Maybe it’s an unusual varietal or style that the consumer is not familiar with or doesn’t recognize, despite the LCBO’s efforts to make the public aware of it. A reduction in price might be an incentive to buy.

How about a product that is overpriced and sales suffer? When it is finally realized, the price is dropped.

Many restaurants and hotels order through Private Stock. This process can take many months for product to arrive. When it finally does and it’s time to pick up, many restaurants don’t. They may have obtained other wine in the interim and no longer need or want it. Some may actually have gone out of business. This stock often gets put out on retail store floors, occasionally at a reduced price. You’ll see the product in cases stockpiled at the end of aisles.

Because the LCBO purchases in large volumes, especially for the General List, sometimes a wine that has a certain shelf life gets tired and goes on sale to speed up its departure. The LCBO might in a rare occasion purchase something that is simply not very good and sales are dismal. This would be drastically reduced for a quick sell-off.

The best way to deal with wine that is on sale at the LCBO is as follows. Aside from producer, country or wine region promotions to bring attention to certain wines, you can have a word with the consultant or manager to see exactly why a wine is reduced and what it’s like. If a wine is old or past its prime, avoid it entirely. Alternately, simply purchase one bottle of anything you’re interested in, take it home and sample it as soon as possible. If it’s sound and meets your approval, hustle on back to the store and stock up.

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