Too many microbreweries in Quebec?

This is also ten times more than in 2002, when only 33 microbreweries were active across the province. And in the space of one year, from 2023 to 2024, there were six new banners. It took less than five years to see the birth of a third of Quebec’s microbreweries. But these openings are also accompanied by closures, particularly because the market is starting to become obstructed.

“There has been an evolution of microbreweries in Quebec, it has become a trend, a fashion, there has been a lot of openness, and when people entered the market, it created saturation,” mentions Annie St-Hilaire, co-owner of the Microbrasserie du Lac-St-Jean and member of the board of directors of the Association des microbrasseurs du Québec (AMBQ).

Annie St-Hilaire and Marc Gagnon, co-owners of the Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean (Solveig Beaupuy/Archives Le Quotidien)

Last year, five microbreweries closed their doors, and four this year. In Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, there were 20 microbreweries in 2023, but Anormalt was forced to close in March 2024, in part due to the highly competitive market, while Vida Vida closed its doors a year after opening. Over the past four years in Quebec, a total of 15 establishments have had to close, while 58 new ones have tried to carve out a place for themselves.

For Annie St-Hilaire, things need to be put into context. “In concrete terms, there aren’t that many closures compared to the number of microbreweries in Quebec, and some liquor permits, like Anormalt’s, are still active and can be bought out by others. But on the ground, we still hear that people are having a hard time,” she says, remembering the time when the Microbrasserie du Lac-St-Jean opened and there were only two microbreweries in the region.

The economic context and customers’ more responsible consumption of alcohol also contribute to the difficulties encountered by the industry. In Quebec, eight permits are held by major brewers such as Molson Coors, Labatt and Sleeman, which account for 90% of beer sales in the province.

Grocery store shelf planograms are reducing market share for small microbreweries. (Catherine Trudeau/Archives La Voix de l’Est)

Relaxing the regulations

Where the problem lies is in the regulations governing the brewing industry. First, there is the manual affixing of duty stamps on beers sold in bars and restaurants, the omission of which can be very costly for microbrewers, who are exposed to fines ranging from $500 to $7,500.

There is also the take-out sale at public markets that is prohibited for them, while cider producers have authorization. “There is an inconsistency in this. Customers are forced to consume on site, while there are some who want to take some home. We should introduce flexibility, that would help where competition is stronger,” explains Annie St-Hilaire.

Competition has become even tougher on grocery store shelves since the latter implemented well-defined planograms for each microbrewery in order to avoid abuse. These restricted spaces also limit the sale of microbrewery beers and deal a hard blow to smaller businesses, which necessarily have an even more cramped space.

Last March, the Association des microbraseurs du Québec launched a campaign to denounce the obsolescence of the duty stamp. (Annie St-Hilaire/The Lac-Saint-Jean Microbrewery)

“Grocery stores have changed their attitude towards microbreweries because there are too many people to sell, inventories were poorly managed, microbrewers did not come to collect their expired products, etc.”, says the secretary-treasurer of the AMBQ.

Back off

Even if the market reaches saturation, she believes there will always be room for micros ready to distinguish themselves with innovative beers and concepts.

“You have to ask yourself ‘what microphone do I have that’s better?’ We’re no longer in the era of novelty, we can’t release a beer a month like we used to, the market isn’t there anymore, people want products that they recognize.”

The two watchwords according to her: inventiveness and diversity. She believes that microbrewers must diversify, without spreading themselves too thin, since consumers need to find their essentials. They can also very well consume beers from different microbreweries, as the co-owner of the Microbrasserie du Lac-St-Jean points out, whose customers include drinkers of Pie Braque, La Chouape, Voie Maltée and Hopéra.

In the space of 12 years, the number of microbreweries has tripled in Quebec, going from 102 establishments in 2012 to 330 in 2024. (Caroline Grégoire/Le Soleil Archives)

“Today, a micro that produces blondes or redheads without any particular distinction is of no interest to the consumer.”

— Annie St-Hilaire

Drinking a microbrewery beer is an experience, and that is what microbrewers should be looking for, according to her, so that once they reach the grocery store shelves, the consumer remembers it and wants to relive it.

“People relate to the values ​​of microbreweries, and they look for authenticity too,” she adds.

For its part, with a view to diversification, the Microbrasserie du Lac-St-Jean had the idea of ​​offering beer as a cooking ingredient and plans to launch a series of poutine sauce and tomato sauce very soon.

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