The changing face of drinking in Canada

May 15, 2020

Despite recent data presented by Statistics Canada demonstrating that annual beer consumption has decreased among Canadians, a new industry report has shown that Canadians are not drinking less.

In an instalment of “Are We Really…?” published by the Financial Post, Jake Edmiston discusses the recent trends in alcohol consumption among Canadians. The findings from a recent report released by the industry group Beer Canada revealed a 3% decrease in total beer sales volumes compared to data obtained in 2018.

At the Restaurants Canada trade show which took place in Toronto in March, Chief executive of Molson Coors Canada, Frederic Landtmeters, had referred to this decrease as “unseen” in the industry. “Tough times for the beer industry… We’re going to get through this together,” he added.

According to recent numbers revealed by Statistics Canada, annual beer consumption has been reduced by more than 10 litres per person for individuals over the age of 15 between 2004 and 2018. However, during the same period, the total volume of pure alcohol has experienced modest increases.

Therefore, despite data indicating declines in beer consumption, it does not appear that Canadians drink less, according Tim Stockwell, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CHISUR) at the University of Victoria. Moreover, according to Stockwell, since Statistics Canada’s data does not include unrecorded sales, including cross-border purchases, true alcohol consumption among Canadians is even higher than the reported numbers and can add an extra 11% of alcohol purchases.

Stockwell indicates that variations in drinking levels, such as specific consumption time frames, age groups and regions, were not included in the analysis provided by Statistics Canada.

“The last 10 years [following the 2008 recession] have shown larger increases. If you go back 100 years, we’ve had a massive decline, but on average, we’re drinking quite a lot. More than we used to for sure.”

Tim Stockwell, Director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CHISUR)

Notably, White Claw Hard Seltzer, a new cocktail which had entered the market and created by Anthony von Mandl, has become the main competitor of Canadian beer, and could be one of the reasons behind its diminished consumption.

Since the launch of White Claw in 2016, its sales have increased from one million cases to 150 million cases projected to be sold in the 2020 fiscal year.

In addition, von Mandl has predicted White Claw’s annual sales in Canada to grow up to 25 million cases, with the retail price of $49.99 per 8.5 litre case, equal to about 10% of the Canadian beer market share.

Accordingly, large Canadian beer companies are responding with efforts to launch their own brands of seltzers and other beverages.

“You’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep trying things. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Kyle Norrington, president of Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd, told the audience at the Restaurants Canada trade show.