The wine & spirits market in Ontario is unique. All international products are purchased directly by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which as such operates a purchasing monopoly in the province. Matters such as packaging and labelling are all subject to government approval.
While in some cases the LCBO buys direct, in the majority of cases they work with agents, registered in Ontario. Agents work with producers from around the world to present wines and spirits to the LCBO for sale in the marketplace.
The LCBO operates approximately 650 retail and 200 affiliate stores in the province. The selection is broken into a “general list” of 4,000+ products, as well as 3,000+ “Vintages” products that are offered throughout the year (most on a limited basis, and with sell-through requirements).
Presenting products to the LCBO is done via formal requests, often themed, throughout the year. Promotional periods may, in some cases, look for products as far as ten months in advance. All products are sampled and evaluated in LCBO labs prior to being offered for sale to the public.
Agents may also sell wines to private individuals and trade accounts (restaurants, institutions); however all products are still purchased via the LCBO.
When working with agents, it is important to note that final product purchase orders and payments are issued by the LCBO – i.e. the government of Ontario – which many producers find can provide an added level of security. The LCBO also manages importation and freight forwarding.