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Posts Tagged ‘SAQ

Rumour confirmed

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For those of us outside the SAQ, trying to understand the machinations, motives and plans of the company’s decision-makers is like being an inmate in Plato’s cave. Sitting with our backs to the entrance and forced to face a wall, we attempt to divine what is happening beyond the cave by studying the shadows the actors cast upon the wall.

For several years now, the shadows have seemed to indicate that the SAQ was preparing to make a major shift in its sales model: to begin selling private imports directly to consumers (instead of forcing them to pass through an agency) and to stop requiring that all private imports be purchased by the case.

Though rumours to that effect abounded, concrete signs were few. One of the earliest was the announcement that the SAQ intended to double its offer from the current 12,000 or so products to somewhere between 20,000 and 24,000 products in the next few years. How could it quickly and cost-effectively pull that off without massively expanding its store network, sales force and supply chain? Selling private imports online seemed the only answer. That in the neighbourhood of 10,000 to 15,000 products are currently available through the private import channel – exactly the number needed to pull off the trick – lent credence to the hypothesis.

Other signs? The monopoly’s increasing focus on online sales, including its recent introduction of products available only on The roll-out of the Click, Purchase, Pick Up service. Factoids like the Montreal Distribution Centre’s reportedly setting aside a large area for an unspecified purpose.

In an interview with Bill Zacharkiw in today’s Gazette, Alain Brunet, the SAQ’s president and CEO, finally puts the rumours to rest (emphasis mine):

BZ: Now we are seeing a complete fragmentation of the market. Go to any wine bar or fine restaurant, and the vast majority of wines on the list aren’t even available at the SAQ, only as private imports. I don’t even know most of these wines.

AB: The private import market has really developed over the past five to 10 years. Over 70 per cent of the sales of private import wines are restaurants.

BZ: But that’s mostly due to restrictive policies that allow these wines to be purchased only by the case, which limits the individual consumer access to all this choice.

AB: We know this is an important trend and it’s over a $125-million business. We aren’t trying to slow it down; in fact, we want to accelerate it. What we have lacked is an effective way to distribute all these niche products. Now we have the technology, and within two years our goal is to have all wines available by the bottle on

Insiders I’ve spoken to say the target launch date is the fall of 2018.

Agents I’ve spoken to don’t appear particularly excited about the concept. Then again, like the rest of us, they’ve been kept in the dark and have little idea of how it might work. That being said, most feel it is unlikely that every product in the private import channel will be available through

This change and the overall push toward online sales will probably have major implications for the SAQ’s store network. Look for some thoughts on that in a future post.

Written by carswell

February 25, 2017 at 11:23

Posted in Commentary, News

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Privateimportize the SAQ!

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Every few months there’s a wave of talk about privatizing the SAQ. Regardless of your feelings on the subject (I see at least as many downs as ups and suspect the idea is dead in the water because the unions won’t stand for it), if it ever happens, it won’t be soon.

In the meantime, here’s a modest proposal that would go some way toward assuaging those who disparage the monopoly’s purportedly pathetic selection: privateimportize the SAQ.

How would it work?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

June 11, 2013 at 20:04

Posted in Commentary

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The case of the missing Noilly Prat

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Ask people to name the different types of vermouth and most will probably answer red and white. Actually, vermouths are divided into three main styles: Provençal, Savoie and Italian. (In fact, it’s even more complicated than that; see here for details.)

The first of these styles, the Provençal, is generally considered the most complex. And the last remaining representative of the style is Noilly Prat.

Straw-coloured Noilly Prat Original Dry is arguably the quintessential ingredient for a classic dry martini. Many martini recipes specify it by name while leaving the choice of gin up to the mixologist. As the New American Bartender’s Handbook says, “No martini should be made without a splash of this.” What’s more, Noilly Prat Original Dry is a key ingredient in several Provençal dishes, especially fish dishes. T. S. Eliot even named one of his cats after it. The lighter, more delicate Savoie vermouths can be delicious but they lack Noilly Prat’s heft. Italian dry vermouths tend to be sweeter, heavier and less refined. The bottom line: Noilly Prat is both an icon and an essential addition to any self-respecting liquor cabinet.

And it isn’t available in Quebec or Ontario.

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Written by carswell

May 25, 2013 at 12:28

Posted in Commentary

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The Private Import FAQ

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You’re dining in a restaurant and the waiter pours a wine that knocks your socks off. You ask to see the bottle. “Is this available at the SAQ,” you ask. “No,” the waiter replies. “It’s a private import brought in by the XYZ agency.” The next day, you call XYZ and order a case. A week or two later, you receive a call from a nearby SAQ outlet telling you your wine has arrived. You drop by the outlet, pay for your bottles and take them home with you.

Yes, ordering private imports can be that simple and straightforward. Except when it isn’t.

And since you’ll find not a word about private imports on the website, I’ve put together an FAQ on the ins and outs of ordering wines through the private import channel. You’ll find it after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

April 5, 2013 at 12:36

Posted in FAQs

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The new cons (miscellaneous)

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Product pages

  • Vintages are no longer shown for inexpensive wines.
  • Wines in outlets may not be the vintage shown online or, when two or more vintages are available, no vintage may be shown online.
  • The product info doesn’t include a link to the producer’s website. (EDIT 13/02/17: Looks like they’re doing it for some large producers, e.g. Cousiño-Macul.)
  • The product info doesn’t include the agency that represents the producer in Quebec.
  • The information for specific products (taste tags, tasting notes, drinkability windows, etc.) appears to be one-size-fits-all-vintages.


  • There’s no “wish list” or “favourites” function. Want to make a shopping list to take with you to the store? You’re going to have to print each product’s info or availability page or copy and paste the names into a word processor or another application.
  • There’s very little in the way of personalization aside from a “favourite outlets” list.
  • Why doesn’t the site remember my postal code? Or point me to the nearest outlet that has the product when none of my selected outlets does? Or adapt its product suggestions to my search and purchase history? Amazon can do this but not the SAQ?

Weak translations

  • The “practical tools” should be useful tools.
  • Mead is here called “honey wine.” Go figure.
  • No anglophone would ever say “terroir product,” which should probably be translated as Quebec product.
  • The alcool category should be called the neutral grain spirit (or neutral alcohol) category in English; instead it’s “alcohol.”
  • “Empyreumatic” means nothing to 99.9% of anglos, isn’t found in most dictionaries (e.g. the Canadian Oxford and Merriam Webster’s, though it is defined on and would be better rendered as charred or burned aromas.
  • One of the price ranges is “$40.00 and more.” “$40.00 and over” sounds more idomatic to me.
  • Literally topping them all, the HTML title “Wines, alcohols & spirits” is a calque of the French Vins, alcools, spiritueux. Do anglos even use “alcohols” in everyday speech? And, regardless, what can it possibly mean here? A better translation would surely be something like “Wine, beer and spirits” or “Wine and liquor.”

Assorted WTFs

  • No info is provided on how to order and return private imports, which account for a significant and growing percentage of the SAQ’s sales, especially among buyers of specialty products.
  • There’s no direct link to the online shop. You have to click a product category (e.g. wine) and then filter the results by selecting the online option.
  • People who use the online shop complain that they can’t save a session and return to complete it later.
  • Since the Our Suggestions products do not reflect the user’s preferences (as established by his/her search and purchase history), they’re useless. They’ve got nothing to do with products you might like, everything to do with products the SAQ wants to move. “Featured products” would be a more honest description. And, just wondering, but does the SAQ charge producers/agencies to display their products here?

Written by carswell

February 14, 2013 at 12:24

Posted in Commentary

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The new cons (search engine and results)

with 8 comments

While searches are much improved on the new site, they’re far from perfect.

  • The typing cursor used to default to the search box on every page. Now it doesn’t. You now have to click the search box before entering your search string. Why?
  • The search engine doesn’t recognize Boolean or other operators. The search string alsace -riesling displays – wait for it – Rieslings. Why can’t I search for every Alsatian product that isn’t a Riesling?
  • From the search results page, you used to be able to get to the Availability in Outlets page with one click. Now if you click the Available in Outlets bar under the product’s picture, it takes you to the product info page, where you then have to click the Availability in Outlets button.
  • Narrowing the search results down to a district of a city used to require selecting an option from a single drop-down menu. Now it requires selecting a option from two drop-down menus (more clicks, more mousing).
  • The search results take up far more real estate. On my monitor at the site’s default size setting, I see the full results for a grand total of four products and partial results for four more. To see the remaining 12 products (at the default setting of 20 results per page), I have to scroll.
  • You can’t select more than one option in a filter. If you want to know which champagnes are available in 375 ml and 500 ml formats, you have to do two searches.
  • The Price filter tops out at $40. That’s too low a bar these days: there are currently more than 3,000 wines that meet that description! I’m often asked to recommend an expensive bottle to mark a wine lover’s birthday or anniversary, so it’s clear people would find it useful to search for bottles priced between, say $75 and $125. Or sparklers over $150. You can’t do that now.
  • The Price filter brackets over $20 are too broad: $20.00 to $29.99; $30.00 to $39.99; $40 and more. At the very least, the ranges should be in increments of $4.99.
  • On the other hand, why not just let users set their own price range parameters? It’s not hard to imagine people looking for wines that cost, say, $30 give or take a couple of bucks. Why can’t they set the price range filter for $28 to $32? As it stands now, they’d have to do a search for bottles between $20 and $29.99 and then another search for bottles between $30 and $39.99 and then sort each set of results by price. Same thing if you’re looking for a product between $20 and $40. Ridiculous!
  • When you search for a product’s availability based on your postal code or district, the results are displayed as a list. Why not on a map?
  • You still can’t display a given outlet’s inventory (reportedly to come in a future version).
  • ADDED 13/02/18: The product descriptions on the Availability in Outlets pages have been condensed to the point of obscurity. For example, take the two currently available wines from Clos Canarelli. Vintage, price and SAQ code aside, the descriptions for the red and white are identical. Unless you remember that the red is the 2010, say, or the white runs $39.25, you’re not going to know which product’s availability you’re looking at. The description on the product info page includes the category (e.g. red wine) and size (e.g. 750 ml). Why not include them on the availability page too?
  • ADDED 13/06/09: The search engine distinguishes between accented and unaccented characters. It shouldn’t. Many anglos (and quite a few francos) don’t type accents or don’t know how to. Confounding the issue, the SAQ is inconsistent, sometimes spelling Barmès (as in Barmès Buecher) with the accent and other times without. As a result, searching for barmès currently finds four wines (three of them from Barmès Buecher) while searching for barmes finds three different Barmès Buecher wines. In an ideal world, searching for barmès or barmes would turn up all seven wines.
  • ADDED 13/07/31: Language discrimination! Plug Noilly into the French search engine and you’ll get back: Cinzano extra sec, Martini sec and Stock extra sec. Plug it into the English engine and you’ll get back zilch.

Written by carswell

February 14, 2013 at 12:08

Posted in Commentary

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The new cons (look and feel)

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Sad but true: the list of nits to pick with the new is too long for a single post. Here then is the first instalment, my complaints about the site’s overall look and feel.

  • Way too busy: sensory overload.
  • The layout elements (banner ads, pictures, menu names, element titles, etc.) are too big, take up far too much real estate. It may look good on a tablet but it’s lousy on a desktop monitor, even a fairly high pixel-count monitor like mine (1920 x 1080).
  • The reduce text option does only that – reduces the text size but not the size of the graphics and major titles, which is what one really wants to shrink.
  • The sizes of the various layout elements are disproportionate. When I use CTRL-minus to reduce the graphics, menu names and element titles to a reasonable size, one that lets me see most of the page without scrolling, one that doesn’t force me to look side to side to take it all in, the product details become too small to read easily, a problem compounded by their being printed in grey, not black.
  • The home page banner animation is on by default: you have to click the pause button each time to stop the distraction. What’s more, the animation’s a continuous loop. Don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when returning to the home page is rush to hit Pause.
  • The banner animation is too fast. You don’t always have time to take in the content before the next banner is displayed.
  • Oh, the dumbing down! Too much eye candy at the expense of useful information.
  • Too much redundancy. For example, the front page currently has four links to the food pairing engine: “Tips and Pairings” at the top of the page; “So happy together” under the Tchin Tchin graphic; “Wine and food pairings” the first  of the so-called practical tools; and “Wine and food pairings” under the Tips and Pairings menu at the the bottom of the page.
  • Seldom used links (e.g. the “practical tools”) are far too prominent.
  • Irrelevant links (e.g. “our suggestions”) are too prominent.
  • The site looks horrible on small-screen (e.g. smartphone) browsers. As Thomas commented yesterday, the lack of a dedicated mobile site is a major fail.
  • People who visit the site on tablets complain that it’s hard to scroll without inadvertently selecting a link.
  • As will be detailed in coming posts, the new site increases the amount of clicking, scrolling and general mousing required of users. If anything, it should have done the opposite.

Written by carswell

February 14, 2013 at 11:40

Posted in Commentary

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