Guide for Grocery Store Operators with a Licence to Sell Beer and Wine or Beer and Cider

Please note that the maximum number of 450 grocery store licences in effect at one time, as set out in regulation, has been reached. As a result, AGCO is not accepting any new applications for beer and wine grocery store licences or beer and cider grocery store licences.

Grocery Stores: Owners/Operators

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is responsible for administering the Liquor Licence and Control Act, 2019 (LLCA) which together with its regulations and the standards and requirements established by the Registrar, establish the licensing and regulatory regime for most aspects relating to the sale and service of liquor in Ontario.

Among its regulatory activities in the liquor sector, the AGCO is responsible for licensing eligible grocers to sell beer and wine or beer and cider, and ensuring that these products are sold responsibly and in accordance with the law. To be eligible for a beer and wine grocery store licence or beer and cider grocery store licence with the AGCO, the grocery store operator must have a wholesale supply agreement with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

As set out in the regulation, there is a limit on the number of beer and cider grocery store licences and beer and wine grocery store licences that may be in effect at one time.

This portal is intended for those grocery store operators who are already licensed to sell beer and wine or beer in cider in a grocery store in Ontario.

Use the resources below to help you apply for a transfer or relocation of a licence or to better understand your obligations under Ontario’s regulatory framework for liquor sales in grocery stores.

Introduction

This guide provides information about the following classes of licences to operate a retail store for the sale of beer and cider or beer and wine in grocery stores (“Licences”) from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO):

  1. Beer and Cider Grocery Store Licence: Permits the sale and sampling of beer and cider but not other types of wine in a grocery store by the operator of the store.
  2. Beer and Wine Grocery Store Licence: Permits the sale and sampling of beer and wine (including cider) in a grocery store by the operator of the store.

Grocery store operators that have a wine boutique in their grocery store must also hold a Wine Boutique Sales Agent endorsement on their Beer and Cider Grocery Store Licence.

This guide also provides information on your general responsibilities and obligations as a beer and cider or beer and wine grocery store licensee. Please note that this guide does not replace the legislation. Please consult the Liquor Licence and Control Act, 2019 (LLCA), the regulations and standards and requirements established by the Registrar to ensure that you understand all of the responsibilities and obligations that come with a Beer and Cider or Beer and Wine Grocery Store Licence. You may also wish to consult with a legal advisor.

Beer and Cider or Beer and Wine in Grocery Stores in Ontario

The AGCO is responsible for licensing eligible grocery store operators to sell beer and cider or beer and wine, and ensuring that these products are sold responsibly and in accordance with Ontario’s regulatory framework.

The AGCO is an agency of the provincial government that is responsible for regulating aspects of Ontario’s liquor industry. The AGCO’s mandate includes ensuring that the sale and service of liquor is conducted in a safe and responsible manner. The AGCO’s powers in the liquor sector are primarily derived from the LLCA and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario Act, 2019.

Selling Beer and Cider or Beer and Wine at a Grocery Store — Maintaining Your Licence

Once you have been issued a licence to sell beer and wine or beer and cider, it is your responsibility to operate your store and sell liquor responsibly in accordance with the LLCA, the regulations, standards and requirements established by the Registrar and any conditions attached to your licence. Failure to do so may result in regulatory action such as a warning, monetary penalty, suspension or revocation of your licence .

RENEWAL OF YOUR LICENCE

A beer and wine or beer and cider licence will be valid for either two or four years from the date it is first issued. Renewal applications, along with the appropriate fee(s) must be submitted to the AGCO prior to your licence expiry date to ensure that there is no lapse in your licence to sell these products. Please refer to the AGCO’s Schedule of Liquor Licensing Fees. You will not be permitted to sell these products unless you have a valid licence with the AGCO.

TRANSFER OR RELOCATION OF A LICENCE

Transfer of Licence

A licence is issued for the sale of beer and wine or beer and cider at a specific grocery store location. The grocery store operator is responsible for the ongoing compliance with the requirements of the licence. A transfer of licence is required if a different person wishes to acquire the licence or if the grocery store is relocating to a different location.

Transfer of Licence to a Different Person

A grocery store operator may transfer their beer and wine or beer and cider grocery store licence to a different person, provided that the regulatory requirements are met and subject to the approval of the Registrar.

An application is required to transfer the licence to a different person and the following documents may be required:

  • Personal Disclosure information for individuals associated with the business entity that have or will have decision-making authority and/or supervisory responsibility with respect to the sale of beer, wine or cider in grocery stores including sole proprietors, partners in partnership, and officers and directors of a corporation.
  • Business Name Registration
  • Floor plans of the premises with all areas and retail space outlined and labelled (e.g. grocery retail space; pharmacy; storage area), including dimensions of each area and store “plan or guide” (if available).

Relocation — Transfer of Licence to Different Location

Grocery store operators may relocate their licence to a different location in the same geographic region provided that the regulatory requirements are met and subject to the approval of the Registrar.

An application for the transfer of a licence to a different relocation is required. In order to be eligible for a transfer to a different location, both= stores must be owned by the same operator, the operators of the stores are affiliates, or the stores are part of the same franchise system.

The Registrar will not approve a transfer to a different location if the proposed location is not within the same geographic region as the store with the the beer and wine or beer and cider grocery store licence. In addition, the proposed grocery store must not be located within five kilometres of an agency store.

KEEPING THE AGCO INFORMED

You are required to notify the AGCO of any changes to your business, including changes to the ownership and/or management. Further documentation may be required, depending on the situation. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • If a new individual(s) becomes associated with the business entity that has or will have decision-making authority and/or supervisory responsibility with respect to the sale of beer, wine or cider in grocery stores, you are required to notify the AGCO of the change in ownership structure, and new individuals must provide Personal Disclosure information.
  • If a new manager is hired whose responsibilities include overseeing the day- to-day operations of the sale of beer and cider or beer and wine, the new manager will be required to provide Personal Disclosure information.
  • If there are any planned renovations to existing grocery store(s) to which a Licence applies that impact the sale of beer, wine or cider (e.g. beer product display area; or a decrease in floor space dedicated to food product), you must notify the AGCO and submit updated floor plans of the premises with all areas and retail space outlined and labelled, including the dimensions of each area.

SURRENDERING YOUR LICENCE/CLOSING OR SELLING YOUR BUSINESS

If you decide to close your business, or if you no longer want to sell beer and cider or beer and wine at your business, you must surrender your Licence to the AGCO and submit a Voluntary Surrender of Licence.

HOURS OF SALE AND PICKUP

Permissible Retail Sale Hours

See Hours for Liquor Sale, Service and Delivery.

While grocery store operators may choose to further limit the hours of beer and cider or beer and wine sales, store operators must ensure that beer and cider or beer and wine are not available to customers outside of the prescribed hours. For example, store operators may choose to lock the refrigerators in which the products are located, create a partition around the display aisles, or lock the point-of-sale system to disallow the sale of beer and cider or beer and wine outside of the prescribed hours. Grocers have the flexibility to determine how best to meet this requirement in their store environments.

Some grocery stores may also have general hours of operation that are outside the permissible hours of sale (e.g. a 24 hour store), however they are only permitted to sell in-store and allow for the pickup of liquor within the permissible hours.

Some licenses may have conditions that further limit the permissible hours.

Product Display and Storage Requirements

It is the grocery store operator’s responsibility to properly display the beer and cider or the beer and wine that is offered for sale. Beer and cider (if sold) must be displayed in one single contiguous product display area and cannot be displayed in multiple locations throughout the store (e.g. beer displayed in aisle 1 and cider in aisle 10). There are no restrictions on the size of the area. Wine (excluding cider) must also be sold in a single contiguous product display area, but it does not have to be in the same display area as beer (and cider, if sold).

When displaying beer, wine and cider to customers, the store operators must also ensure that a certain proportion of containers of beer, wine, and cider are produced by small breweries, wineries, and cideries.

Beer, wine and cider stock that is not on display to customers must be stored in a secure area that is not accessible to the public.

Permitted Products and Packaging Requirements

Beer and cider offered for sale may be sold in container sizes up to 750 millilitres and with an alcohol content up to 7.1% by volume.

Certain beverages are not permitted to be sold, such as malt-based beverages and beer containing alcohol that was obtained other than by the fermentation of an infusion or decoction of barley, malt and hops, or of any similar products if that alcohol increases the total alcohol content by more than 0.5 of one per cent by volume.

The grocery store operator may sell single cans of beer and cider, but cannot offer a package of more than six (6) containers or offer a discount or a rebate on purchases of more than six (6) containers.

Wine, other than cider, with up to 18% alcohol by volume may be sold. Cream wine and wine beverages are not permitted to be sold.

Dealing with Manufacturers or Representatives

Grocery store operators, their agents and employees are prohibited from directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any financial or non-monetary benefit from a beer, wine or cider manufacturer or its employees for any reason, including the provision of shelf space or product listing of the manufacturer’s beer, wine or cider or for any merchandising, marketing or promotional opportunities.

Grocery store operators are also prohibited from entering into an agreement with a beer, wine or cider manufacturer if the agreement restricts the manufacturer’s ability to sell its beer, wine or cider in other stores.

Prohibited Brands

A grocery store operator must not sell or offer to sell a brand of beer, wine or cider if the store operator or any of its affiliates has a direct or indirect financial interest in the brand or a trademark under which the beer, wine or cider is marketed.

Loyalty Points or Reward Programs

Grocer store operators may issue loyalty or reward points on the purchase of beer, wine or cider as long as they are applied equally to all beer, wine or cider products (i.e. promotions involving extra points/rewards for a particular brand are not permitted).

Store operators cannot, however, accept benefits given to customers under a loyalty program or a rewards marketing program as full or partial payment for beer, wine or cider.

This requirement covers any benefits given to customers under a loyalty or rewards marketing program, including coupons, tickets, points, or rewards. These benefits also cannot be exchanged, converted or redeemed for cash that is applied to payment for beer, wine or cider.

To assist in ensuring compliance, store operators may wish to consider, for example, changing their point-of-sale system to disallow the redemption of points towards the purchase of beer, wine and cider or implementing a policy where the purchase of beer wine or cider is processed as a separate transaction from grocery products.

Cross Promotions

Grocery store operators cannot offer free or discounted merchandise that requires the purchase of beer, wine or cider. For example, a store cannot offer a promotion where a free or discounted snack item is available to customers that purchase beer, wine or cider.

Other products may be displayed within the contiguous product display areas if they are displayed by the licensee for the purpose of cross-promotion with the liquor. However, energy drinks or products that promote the immoderate consumption of liquor are not permitted.

Grocers should consult the standards and requirements established by the Registrar for more information.

Sampling

Licensed grocery stores may offer samples of beer, wine or cider to customers in or adjacent to the beer and wine or beer and cider display area. Samples may be provided to customers by licensed manufacturers’ representatives or staff of the licensed grocery store. Grocery store operators must ensure that any person who is involved in the sampling of beer and wine or cider in their store has successfully completed responsible liquor sale, service and delivery training and that all sampling is conducted in accordance with the standards and requirements established by the Registrar.

Posting Licence

Licensed grocery stores must post the licence pertaining to the particular location in a conspicuous place. For example, posting the licence at the customer service counter or at a selected checkout aisle are acceptable options.

Signage Requirement — Warning Sign for Consumption of Liquor During Pregnancy

Licensed grocery stores must display a sign warning that drinking liquor during pregnancy is the cause of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (also known as “Sandy’s Law” signs). The sign is required to be prominently displayed in an area where liquor is purchased (e.g., cash register). For more information and to download a copy of the sign, please see Signage Requirement – Warning Sign for Consumption of Liquor During Pregnancy

Continuous Sale

For the beer and wine licence, the operator must ensure that the store begins to sell beer and wine to the public within six (6) months from the date the licence is issued and continues to sell beer and wine thereafter. This requirement also applies to the sale of beer under a beer and cider licence, however it does not apply to the sale of cider.

Tips on Ensuring Compliance

The following outlines some information and tips that grocery store operators may want to consider to help ensure they are complying with regulatory requirements.

  1. Minors: What to Look For
      
    The legal drinking age in the province of Ontario is 19 years of age. Selling beer, wine or cider to people who are under 19 years of age is a contravention of the LLCA.
     
    All customers who appear to be under the age of 19 must be asked for valid ID before being sold beer, wine or cider. If an employee doubts the legitimacy of an individual’s ID, they may wish to consider requesting a second piece.
  2. Intoxicated Customers: What to Look For
      
    Staff of a licensed grocery store cannot sell beer, wine or cider to a person who is or appears to be intoxicated. A customer exhibiting signs of intoxication must be refused the sale of beer, wine and/or cider.
  3. Second Party Purchasers: What to Look For
     
    A “second party purchaser” is someone who purchases liquor on behalf of someone else, who may not be legally permitted to purchase it themself (e.g. a minor or a person who is intoxicated). Staff should be aware of indicators that a customer is a second party purchaser. For example, if a customer purchasing beer was previously observed speaking to or was accompanied into the grocery store by a minor or intoxicated person, he or she may be purchasing beer for that person.

Compliance Assurance

AGCO INSPECTIONS

All locations are inspected by AGCO Compliance Officials for compliance with the LLCA the regulations and standards and requirements established by the Registrar. You must allow AGCO Compliance Officials unobstructed access to your business and you must facilitate their inspections. Infractions for which you may be sanctioned include:

  1. Selling or supplying liquor outside of prescribed hours;
  2. Selling or supplying liquor to individuals who are, or appear to be, under the age of 19; and
  3. Selling liquor to anyone who is, or appears to be, intoxicated.

Committing any infractions of the LLCA applicable regulations and standards and requirements established by the Registrar may result in a warning, monetary penalty, suspension or revocation of your licence by the AGCO. In addition, local police may lay charges.

ORDERS OF MONETARY PENALTY/HEARINGS

Infractions of the LLCA, regulations and standards and requirements established by the Registrar may result in a monetary penalty. If you are issued an Order of Monetary Penalty (OMP) by the Registrar, you will have 15 days to request an appeal before the Licence Appeal Tribunal (LAT).

If you choose not to request an appeal before LAT, you are required to pay the amount specified in the OMP.

If you choose to request an appeal before LATLAT will inform you of the appeal date and location. LAT may either uphold or set aside the monetary penalty (LAT cannot vary the amount of the penalty).

Responsible Liquor Sale, Service and Delivery Training

The grocery store operator shall ensure that any person involved in the sale or sampling of liquor has obtained a certificate demonstrating the successful completion of responsible liquor sale, service and delivery training.

This program is available on the Smart Serve® website. For more information about the Smart Serve® Training Program, please contact Smart Serve® Ontario. Their contact information can be found on the Key Liquor Industry Contact.

Please note that the AGCO recognizes The Server Intervention Program certification issued prior to May 1995.

Questions / Comments

For more information, or assistance with your application, please contact AGCO Customer Service at 416-326-8700 or 1-800-522-2876 (toll-free in Ontario).