More than 90 years of sharing pleasure Since its creation in 1921, the SAQ has been marked by several dates and events. The SAQ has lived through a world war, the Great Depression, the advent of radio, television and computers and even a landing on the Moon. It has also experienced major transformations: changes in its name, mandate and status; the shift to self-service stores; the introduction of wine sales in grocery and convenience stores; labour disputes; economic recessions; and several attempts at privatization.
A little background (1898-1920)
The Canadian government holds a national plebiscite on prohibition. In Quebec, the no side wins the majority of votes.
The Quebec government passes legislation enacting total prohibition effective May 1, 1919.
In a plebiscite held by the Quebec government, a majority of Quebecers vote to exclude beer, wine and cider from the Temperance Act. Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada or the United States that does not impose total prohibition..
Four decades of the Commission des liqueurs de Québec (1921-1960)
The Quebec government opts for an original solution: temperance rather than the abstinence practiced elsewhere in North America. It passes the Alcoholic Beverages Act and creates the Commission des liqueurs de Québec. The Commission is charged with conducting the wine and spirits trade and with ensuring quality control of the products sold. It buys the stocks held by grocers and importers for an assessed value of nearly $5 million.
In its first year of operation, the Commission sets up a control laboratory, opens 64 stores offering 383 products and employs a staff of 415. Sales total $15 million dollars and the Commission generates net income of $4 million.
The Commission des liqueurs de Québec sets up its own bottling plant, creating jobs and lowering the list price of many brands. The Commission employs a staff of 671.
The Commission des liqueurs de Québec bottles 23 brands of wine and 39 brands of spirits. With their counters behind a metal grid, the Commission's first stores look like confessionals. The bottles are kept out of sight and wrapped in special paper. The only thing in plain view is a price list posted on the wall. Only one bottle of spirits can be ordered at a time, although wine is not rationed.
Annual gross sales reach $27,539,966 at the height of American prohibition but will fall to $11,370,603 in 1934.
Purchase limits on spirits are eliminated.
The Régie des alcools du Québec: new name, new functions (1961–1970)
The many changes occurring in Quebec society, whose new values include appreciating the pleasures of the table, lead to the passing of a new Alcoholic Beverages Act. The Régie des alcools du Québec (RAQ) is established. Among the objectives it is given is to expand the alcoholic beverage trade. The RAQ also remains in charge of issuing and managing permits. The first partial self-service store is inaugurated at Place Ville Marie in Montreal. Some products are displayed, but customers still have to ask clerks for the bottles they want to buy.
In conjunction with Expo 67, the Régie des alcools du Québec offers Quebecers and tourists an unprecedented selection of wines and alcoholic beverages from around the globe. The world fair marks the true beginning of a wine culture in Quebec. The RAQ opens a distribution centre in Quebec City.
The government commissions a new study into the beverage alcohol trade, creating the Thinel Commission for the purpose.
The Régie des alcools du Québec opens its first self-service store, in Sherbrooke. Customers are able to see, handle, compare and choose products without the involvement of a clerk.
The Société des alcools du Québec: a new mission (1971-1993)
In September, based on the recommendations of the Thinel Commission, the government sets up two completely separate legal and operational entities: the Société des alcools du Québec and the Commission de contrôle des permis d'alcool. The Société inherits 2,600 employees and 215 stores from the Régie. Its objective is to offer consumers a range of sought-after products of the highest possible quality and at the lowest possible price.
The first permits are issued for the production and sale of Quebec wines, which are allowed to include up to 20% imported wine.
The Société des alcools du Québec opens its first Maison des vins, in Quebec City.
A second Maison des vins opens its doors in Montreal.
The Société opens a third Maison des vins in Hull. It also builds the Montreal Distribution Centre, consolidating the company's receiving and distribution departments, bottling plant and laboratory.
Wine makes its debut on grocery store shelves. Thirty products are distributed through the new channel, ten from the SAQ bottling plant and another 20 from the ten holders of winemaking permits issued since 1972. A new means of transport appears on the scene: wine tankers (aka tank ships).
A fourth Maison des vins opens its doors, in Trois-Rivières. Taverns are allowed to sell cider on tap and wine.
Quebec wine producers obtain permission to bottle wines from outside Quebec.
The Free Trade Agreement with the United States forces the SAQ to phase out the tax advantages enjoyed by Quebec-bottled wines. The corporation's total sales exceed the $1 billion mark for the first time.
In collaboration with members of the beverage alcohol industry, the SAQ establishes, Éduc'alcool , whose goal is to encourage responsible alcohol consumption. It is also involved in founding Collecte sélective Québec, a private non-profit agency promoting selective collection in Quebec.
The market stagnates and a 13% drop is observed in worldwide alcohol consumption.
Commercial shift (1994-2003)
The corporation develops new ways of revitalizing the market: bulk wine sales, the introduction of debit cards, more flexible opening hours and direct marketing.
Volume sales of wine increase and, for the first time since 1987–1988, a small rise is seen in spirits sales.
The SAQ launches a major repositioning process and overhauls its merchandising operations. The reorganization of its retail network under three distinct banners constitutes the most visible element of this commercial shift.
For the first time, stores accept payment by credit card.
The SAQ's gross sales reach an all-time high of $1.312 billion. Continuing the commercial shift, the SAQ Express, Classique and Sélection banners are launched and the concept of an outlet specializing in premium beer is developed.
The SAQ launches a new outlet concept, with the SAQ Signature replacing the SAQ Whisky & Cie outlet. The offering of 450 upmarket spirits and 250 exclusive products is expanded by the addition of prestigious wines, champagnes and the finest ports available on world markets.
Under an agreement with the Maison des Futailles SEC, a separate entity is created for the bottling plant and the SAQ becomes a joint shareholder, the government corporation's first public-private partnership.
The idea of offering online shopping begins to take shape. The SAQ studies software packages for transactional websites with home delivery.
Wines bearing the Vins de Qualité Certifiée (VQC) designation are introduced in the network of 9,200 grocery and convenience stores.
Launch of the web site SAQ.com, now transactional.
The first SAQ Dépôt is opened, in Hull. The new-concept outlet is a store where consumers can buy a wide range of bulk and wholesale products at discount prices.
Nearly 30% of the SAQ's wine and spirits sales are to holders of alcohol permits. To better meet the needs of this network, the company creates a division dedicated exclusively to it: SAQ Restauration.
Creation and launch of the SAQ Sélection Art de vivre concept. This new type of outlet groups wine and beer products by various cuisines and by wine-and-food pairings.
The SAQ and RECYC-QUÉBEC jointly launch two programs to support glass conversion in Quebec. One aims to develop methods and technologies for making optimal use of cullet (ground glass), the other to improve the quality of work in sorting centres by encouraging colour-based glass processing.
The SAQ nearly doubles its financial commitment to Éduc’Alcool, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote responsible alcohol consumption.
Opening of the Galerie du Gouverneur. This new facility includes an interpretation centre covering the period of the Patriotes (1828–1840), a wine cellar containing some 75,000 bottles, a reception room, two tasting rooms made available to the Maison du Gouverneur, rental cellars and an SAQ hall presenting 200 years of wine history.
As part of the Quebec program to support the development and marketing of Quebec products, the SAQ opens an SAQ Classique Terroirs d'ici outlet at the Atwater Market and four Terroirs d'ici agencies. In addition, all SAQ Sélection outlets and large SAQ Classique outlets now have a Terroirs d'ici section that features a broad range of these regional specialities
Performance shift (2004-2005)
The SAQ places the customer at the centre of all its business decisions. It also develops and implements its Donation and Sponsorship Policy.
The SAQ's commercial approach is revised to offer promotions centred around discovering new products and to highlight the advisory role of its outlet employees.
The government corporation launches Tchin Tchin magazine, which presents wines and spirits to the Discoverer customer segment. Discovers are keen on advice, discoveries and new products, and the magazine aims to help them better choose, serve and appreciate alcoholic beverages and food pairings.
Governance shift (2006-2012)
The SAQ gradually implements the new corporate governance rules set forth in the government's proposed reform. It also introduces accredited training for all wine advisors in cooperation with the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ).
The company begins selling reusable canvas bags to customers for carrying wine they purchases.
The SAQ also launches Cellier magazine, which targets customers seeking to expand their knowledge. Each issue of Cellier is accompanied by a release of dozens of new products.
The Les Connaisseurs group begins offering appreciation courses on New World wines to the general public.
The SAQ inaugurates its first outlet featuring a new concept: colour codes and informational signs (Taste Tags) that enable customers to easily find wines that fit their taste profiles.
In response to the issue of sustainable development, the SAQ adopts an environmental policy that includes ten undertakings and 28 specific actions, including support for selective collection, all stages of glass recycling and reuse, energy savings and the recovery of residual materials.
Sales of Quebec products increase sixfold in five years, going from nearly $2 million in 2002 to $12 million in 2007.
The SAQ decides to eliminate, by January 2009, single-use plastic and paper bags from its outlets.
The SAQ ramps up its efforts to introduce a glass recovery program among permit holders.
The SAQ strengthens the procedures used in its outlets to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors, to inebriated individuals and to persons buying on their behalf.
The SAQ becomes one of the first public bodies to publish a Sustainable Development Action Plan. It also introduces the Organic and Eco-practical product categories in its retail outlets.
The SAQ transforms the Signature outlet in Quebec City's Château Frontenac into a Terroirs d'ici outlet. The outlet now sells some 700 items, including 280 Quebec products such as wines, meads, ciders and fine spirits.
The SAQ's 2010–2012 Strategic Plan is approved by the Board of Directors and accepted by the Quebec government.
All 414 outlets in the SAQ network now feature the taste tag concept created in 2007.
The SAQ unveils its new vision: to become a world leader in the selection and sale of wines and spirits. It also inaugurates its first Cash-and-Carry outlet dedicated exclusively to permit holders.
To reach out to its increasingly mobile and connected customers, the SAQ develops and makes available a new free iPhone and iPod touch app. The app places a wide range of useful information about wines and spirits at users' fingertips.