The best low-percentage booze: NSLC price increases below national average

Maan Alhmidi 

Published: Apr 24, 2019 at 4:39 p.m.

Alcohol prices in Nova Scotia are increasing more slowly than the rest of the country, an analyses of Statistics Canada data reveals.

The total value of all alcoholic drinks sold in the province during 2017-2018 was up 5.5 per cent compared to 2013-2014, reaching more than $625 million. On the national level, prices jumped by almost 13 per cent to over $23 billion during the same period, according to newly released StatCan data.

The difference in price increases between Nova Scotia and the entire country has to do the cost of alcoholic beverages, not the volume of consumption, said Emory Muir, a program manager at Statistics Canada.

“The price index for alcohol beverages shows that Canada price increase (between March 2013 and March 2018) was 7.1 per cent, and the Nova Scotia price increase was 3.2 per cent,” said Muir. “Our price index has shown a stronger increase in Canada than it has in Nova Scotia for alcohol beverages.”

Most provinces sell alcohol via the public sector, so distributors have to make sure that they make money and provide a dividend to the government in order to contribute to public coffers, said Sylvain Charlebois, the Senior Director of the Agri-Food analytics lab at Dalhousie University.

Charlebois explained that alcoholic beverages distributors like the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation need to look at labour, distribution and energy costs, so they’ve opted to bump up prices in order to offset costs increases.

But the NSLC doesn’t want to discourage demand, he said.

“They don’t want to … spook consumers,” said Charlebois. “That’s why they’re always careful with how they set price points for certain products — they don’t want to see sales go down.”

Beverley Ware, who speaks for the NSLC, said in an email that the provincial Crown corporation tries not to exceed inflation when setting prices. “If a vendor wants to increase the price of their product by more than five per cent, they have to justify it to the NSLC,” she said.

Despite the slower pace of price increase in Nova Scotia, sales volumes between 2013 and 2018 were consistent with the national average.

Per capita sales volumes in Canada were 101.4 liters in 2013-2014. That dropped slightly to 101.2 liters last fiscal year. Nova Scotia followed the same pattern, with per capita sales dropping from 96.7 to 96.6 liters a year over the same period.

Similar trends appeared in Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. However, New Brunswick is an outlier. The sales volume per capita there is up from 86.2 liters in 2013-2014 to 92.7 liters last fiscal year.

But New Brunswick still has the lowest sales volume per capita in Atlantic Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador is in the lead with 112 liters per capita sold last year.

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