SAQ’s monopoly stifles innovation
The SAQ is innovating — at last! — with a loyalty card announced in full-page ads in various newspapers. Unfortunately, it’s not much of an innovation, especially compared to what’s happening elsewhere. When you look at the retailing of alcohol beyond our borders, you realize several new, much more innovative specialized services are revolutionizing the way people consume wine.
Here are a few of the more interesting services that consumers can enjoy in countries like France and the United States, where the sale of wine is less controlled:
Your mother-in-law has invited herself over for supper and you have no time to run errands. Having a bottle of wine delivered to your door, like a pizza, would be practical, no? An American smartphone app called Drizly lets you choose from a selection of up to 3,500 beers, wines, and spirits, with guaranteed delivery in under an hour.
In certain neighbourhoods in the Montreal region, the Bob Delivers app will do the same for beer, a market that is not controlled by the SAQ monopoly. Until its monopoly on wine and spirits comes to an end, however, this kind of service is limited at the SAQ, which offers just 35 per cent of its wines online — and only delivers within 3 to 5 business days.
A single-serve machine, similar to those that exist for coffee, that provides fine wines at the right temperature and perfectly aerated, all at the touch of a button? Indeed, a large part of the wine tasting experience depends on these two conditions, and this French start-up promises that they will always be ideal. The wines are sealed in patented vials that preserve all of their gustatory qualities for up to three years.
When people say they make their own wine, no one expects it to be very good — and it might well be downright awful. A company in France’s Bordeaux region, however, offers amateurs the opportunity to produce 248 bottles of wine according to criteria they select themselves, including grape varietals, harvesting date, and finalizing your wine blend.
It is not strictly forbidden for Quebecers to take advantage of this service. However, because of the SAQ’s monopoly, you would need to avail yourself of the services of a private importer in order to bring your 248 bottles home. The bureaucratic process involved, not to mention the duties and taxes levied by the SAQ, will likely discourage you from embarking on such an adventure.
Le petit ballon (www.lepetitballon.com)
What if wine tastings, and the advice of a sommelier, came right to you through the mail? This subscription service available in France sends out monthly packages containing two bottles selected by a master sommelier, accompanied by a tasting sheet and expert videos.
Mon Caviste à la Maison (www.moncavistealamaison.com)
In France, the sale of wine in the home is now commonplace. You can organize a tasting in your home with a sommelier who will sell you wine directly. The sommelier is remunerated in this way, and as the host, you do not need to pay an honorarium. In Quebec, the best he or she could do is direct you to the nearest SAQ afterward.
Beyond our borders, private companies are full of innovations, trying to outdo one another in their efforts to educate people about wine and offer them various conveniences. Given these kinds of innovations, which it would be impossible or very difficult to develop in Quebec due to the liquor monopoly, the SAQ resembles an ossified taxi company finally adopting credit card payments in order to compete with Uber.
When will Quebec wine lovers also be allowed to sample these kinds of innovations?
Mathieu Bédard est économiste à l'Institut économique de Montréal. Il signe ce texte à titre personnel.