“Lack of innovation” hits N.B. beer volumes

Beer sales were up but volumes down through New Brunswick’s liquor retail network in fiscal 2011, a statistic NB Liquor chalks up to the economy but also to a “lack of innovation in domestic mainstream beer.”

The Crown liquor agency on Wednesday booked beer sales of $229.6 million for its year ending March 31, 2011, up from $228.6 million in 2010. Sales in litres, however, were down 2.9 per cent, which NB Liquor said was “largely attributable to the weak economy.”

Apart from that and the “lack of innovation,” NB Liquor also noted that, “unlike prior years, there was no major concert event in Moncton or cultural festival on the Acadian Peninsula in (calendar) 2010” to drive beer sales.

Sales of spirits were also up in value at $92.2 million, compared to $91.3 million in 2010, but were down 0.6 per cent in volume.

“The cocktail trend, well-developed in other parts of the country, has not yet matured in New Brunswick,” NB Liquor said in its release.

Wine sales, however, rose both in dollar value and in volume. NB Liquor reported $68.3 million in wine sales in fiscal 2011, up 6.1 per cent from 2010 levels. Wine sales to the public rose 5.9 per cent, while agency sales were up 5.4 per cent and licensee sales up 2.6 per cent.

Leading sales growth were Vintner’s Quality Assurance (VQA) wines made in Canada, as well as wines from Argentina and the U.S., NB Liquor said, but wines from “former-growth countries such as Australia and France showed notable decline.”

NB Liquor also booked lower sales in its “other beverages” category, with volumes just over three million litres and sales of $22.2 million, both down about three per cent from fiscal 2010.

Across all sales categories, “the global financial crisis, which caused a rise in food and gas prices, left consumers with less disposable income in the year and contributed to the reduction of 100,000 retail transactions compared to 2010,” NB Liquor CEO Daniel Allain said in Wednesday’s release.

In all, NB Liquor’s sales to the public were $283.6 million or 68.8 per cent of total sales; sales to agents were $75.8 million (18.4 per cent); sales to licensees were $50.6 million (12.3 per cent); and sales to others, including duty-free, were $2.4 million (0.5 per cent).

The Crown corporation’s net earnings for the fiscal year were $159.4 million, up one per cent from 2010.

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