Confessions of a retailer: BC Liquor Distribution Branch

12th August, 2019 by Owen Bellwood

Adele Shaw, the category manager for retail services at Canadian government agency BC Liquor Distribution Branch, talks trends in sales and the country’s love of local brands.

Adele Shaw, category manager for retail services at BC Liquor Distribution Branch

*This feature was originally published in the December 2018 issue of The Spirits Business

Where does your interest in spirits stem from?

I have always enjoyed spirits. I would prefer to order cocktails with dinner rather than wine and I enjoy a whisky – I believe that with its wide range of styles and flavours there is a whisky for everyone to enjoy, they just might not have tried it yet.

Also, I love going to distilleries and learning from master distillers about what makes their products unique.

How long have you been working at BC Liquor Distribution Branch?

I’ve been working here for 30 years.

How do spirits sales differ in Canada?

I can really only speak for the province of British Columbia, but for us the biggest way we differ from other markets is that Canadian whisky is our biggest whisky category by far. The category makes up almost 50% of our whisky sales in volume, while Scotch is our second­-biggest whisky category.

In Canada, we have a multi-cultural consumer base, so we endeavour to provide a wide range of spirits from countries around the world, such as China, Korea, Japan and India, as well as from Europe and the Americas.

How do you select your products?

I watch spirit trends in our market, as well as looking ahead to emerging ones in others. Trends in British Columbia usually follow what happens on the Pacific Rim, in places like California, for example. Some considerations when purchasing products include brand awareness, quality for the price, supplier business plans and marketing support.

I may also select products that are unique to the category, or offer something new to our consumers – who can be very adventurous.

How would you describe your range of spirits?

Our range is diverse and interesting. We have products that range from CA$20 (US$15.14) a bottle to more than CA$39,000 a bottle, and we have more than 1,000 spirit products in our stores.

What is your best-selling spirit brand?

Smirnoff vodka, because it is popular and appeals to a broad audience.

Are there any spirits you wish you were able to stock?

I would love to be able to source more Japanese whiskies, especially Yamazaki.

Are local and regional spirits important to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch?

Absolutely; we love to have local artisanal spirits in our stores. The number of local producers is rapidly growing in British Columbia. Whereas a few years ago there were only a handful of local suppliers we now have more than 30.

Most of the local spirits span gin, vodka and liqueurs, and recently a few new whiskies have been released.

What trends have you noticed in spirits sales?

People are looking for quality and are not as concerned with the price. Spirits that are flavourful and complex, such as single malt whiskies, Bourbon, gin and Tequila, are trending well in our marketplace.

This also follows the trend we see in the rise of retro cocktails like the Whisky Sour, Negroni and Old Fashioned.

What is the most challenging aspect of working at the BC Liquor Distribution Branch?

I manage the entire spirits portfolio as well as saké, and even though I love the challenge sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day.

And what is the most rewarding aspect of working there?

We have an annual ‘premium spirits release’, where I source highly sought-­after whiskies, rums and other amazing spirits.

People will line up for days in advance so they can buy these products. I love seeing the enthusiasm they have for spirits, and always try to bring them something new, rare, trending or unique.

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