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Urban Cowboy: Online LCBO and more broadband — it’s all about local

"Local is king and it counts everywhere"
Urban Cowboy is Owen Roberts' weekly look at agriculture and food in Guelph

A cascade effect could follow the province’s same-day decision earlier this week to make LCBO sales available online and spend $180 million to increase broadband access in rural areas.

It’ll take awhile, but it’s possible.

Here’s why, and how.

In the food and beverage world these days, it’s all about local. No matter where, no matter what the ingredients. Local is king and it counts everywhere, including in alcoholic beverages.

That was seen clearly in the spring, when the University of Guelph bestowed accolades on some of its researchers who had, with support from the partnership between with university and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, helped develop start-up companies.

Such companies are vital for the lifeblood of the Ontario economy, creating jobs and contributing to the province’s standing as Canada’s economic engine.

One researcher who was recognized was molecular biologist Prof. George van der Merwe, along with his graduate students Richard Preiss and Angus Ross. They discovered Ontario yeasts that were also great for brewing beer.

Preiss and Ross went on to launch a company called Escarpment Laboratories. Now, they’re providing Ontario yeasts for local craft beer. Big market, given how craft beer sales have taken off. Perfect.

The same goes for hops. Most hops used for local beer production are imported. But craft beer brewers would certainly prefer to be able to say their beer is 100 per cent local, including the hops. So research is underway to help meet those demands. It’s a slow process, taking 3-4 years to establish a hop yard.

This all figures into the LCBO announcement about online sales. Online shopping could further open up markets for smaller producers, such as Ontario craft beer brewers and VQA wine producers. The province claims it’s offering online LCBO sales to give the citizenry “new and convenient” access to the liquor store’s 5,000-plus item catalogue, and strengthen the LCBO’s ability to generate revenue for Ontarians.

But small VQA wine producers — some of which have their own vineyards — have long blamed the monolithic organization for unfairly catering to high-volume producers . . . few of which are Canadian, let alone Ontarian.

Same thing goes for craft beer producers and the way they supposedly get pushed around by The Beer Store, which is owned by big breweries.  

Anyway, VQA wine producers claim that getting a spot on the shelves at the average LCBO is dear and nearly impossible, and that the organization does not look out for their interests as small business owners and taxpayers. The LCBO counters by saying it’s limited by physical space, and at most stores it can only offer up what people demanded.

Of course, how can consumers demand something they don’t know exists? It’s not like they can be introduced to new Ontario products at the LCBO’s competitor, because it doesn’t have one. The whole argument is frustrating and goes nowhere, and is based on a restrictive in-store retail model that is fading fast.

Now, at least in theory, the online ordering option reduces the LCBO’s claim that shelf space is limited. In the cyber world, space is virtually endless. The LCBO’s warehouses are limited to an extent, but not nearly in the same way that its retail stores are. So, it should be able to offer a wider selection of VQA wine and Ontario craft beer.

The broadband announcement seems a little more straightforward. Business in the modern world depends on reliable connectivity. With that in mind, the governments of Ontario and Canada announced Tuesday they will invest up to $180 million to help bring ultra-high speed Internet to homes and businesses in southwestern Ontario.

This is part of the new Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project, which the province says will expand access to broadband by delivering fibre optic coverage to more than 3.5 million people and 300 communities in southwestern Ontario, as well as Caledon and Niagara.

The province claims the project will help southwestern Ontario communities and businesses better compete in global markets and attract new jobs.

It also says it will “improve quality of life,” allowing individuals to use online resources to gain skills and experience. And, just like their urban counterparts, it will give them much more opportunity to, yes, buy things online.

Things like products from the LCBO.

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Owen Roberts

About the Author: Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a journalist and a columnist with daily, weekly and monthly print and online media.
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