Cash conscious Albertans watch booze budgets

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Albertans are stretching their beer money by changing up their drinking habits.

In the last month, liquor retailers have noticed a change in the products ringing through the cash register.

While January and February are typically slow months in the retail sector – consumers are paying off their holiday credit card bills – local liquor stores are seeing steady streams of revenue, despite, or perhaps due to, a slow provincial economy.

“People are still coming in and buying, but what they’re buying is different. They’re not going to spend the money on the higher end, more expensive items,” said Ashley Fialkowski, co-manager of independently-owned Campbell Liquor in St. Albert.

Rather than buying a $40 bottle of wine, customers are budgeting their money and buying two cheaper bottles at $20 each, explained Doug Hicks, owner of Hicks Fine Wines.

“You’re still spending that same amount, but you can drag that out,” he said.

As of December 2015, the province showed a modest increase in year-over-year alcohol sales, with 1.56 million hectolitres (100 litres) sold across the province – 5.85 per cent increase over 2014, according to numbers published in Liquor Retailer Magazine.

“Things are flattening out a little bit,” said Bill Robinson, CEO of Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. “It’s all about disposable income and people are compressing a bit in this environment.”

In an effort to save some money, consumers are also travelling less and staying in more, which is putting pressure on the restaurant and hotel industries.

“What goes better with staying at home and buying food and cooking it yourself than a bottle of wine?” said Hicks.

The same trend could be seen in the gaming industry, said Robinson, with more and more scratch tickets being sold, while VLT stations at casinos sit empty.

But it’s not all bad news.

While some hotels and restaurants, especially in the north of the province, are experiencing the negative effects of the economic slowdown, Bill McBain, owner of the Celtic Knot in St. Albert, is seeing the flip side.

His demographics consist of older residents, who often travel to the U.S. for the winter. Given the low Canadian dollar, many of these snowbirds have decided to delay their southern migrations and continued to give McBain business.

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Michelle Ferguson