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Manitobans stocked up on cannabis in pandemic's 1st year

The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a big increase in alcohol and cannabis sales in Manitoba — but casino revenues plummeted.

In the 2020-21 fiscal year, liquor sales increased 11 per cent from the year before, to $886 million — a jump Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries attributes in part to stay-at-home orders that kept Manitobans close to their fridges, the Crown corporation's latest annual report says.

As well, cannabis revenues jumped by 56 per cent to $80.2 million in 2020-21, a significant jump from $51.5 million in 2019-20.

That sales spike could be attributed in part to 42 new cannabis stores that sprouted up during the fiscal year. The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba's website now lists well over 100 licensed cannabis stores across the province.

The sale of recreational cannabis became legal in October 2018.

Despite increases in liquor, cannabis sales and online gaming, the pandemic ultimately slashed the corporation's net income to $425 million, a decrease from $606 million in the previous year.

Poor luck for casinos

In particular, casino revenues plunged from $229 million in 2019-20 to just $34 million in the last fiscal year — a decline of 85 per cent. Due to pandemic closures, the two Winnipeg casinos run by Liquor & Lotteries were only open for two-and-a-half months last year, and when they were open were limited to 30 per cent capacity.

Video-lottery terminal, or VLT, revenues dropped from $354.4 million last year to $137.5 million.

For liquor sales, the largest growth area was in "refreshment beverages" — specifically, hard seltzer products, which saw a spike in popularity, the annual report states.

Booze sales also saw a sharp increase early in the pandemic, the report says, when customers weren't certain whether liquor stores would have to close (they didn't).

Casinos were closed for 282 operational days in the 2020-21 fiscal year. (CBC)

Liquor & Lotteries also found consumers picked up more expensive liquor brands in larger quantities.

The corporation's recent surveys suggest the majority of consumers maintained their "low-risk" alcohol consumption habits during the pandemic, the report says.

But a minority reported some increase in their alcohol consumption, which contributed to the increased sales volume, it says.

All cannabis categories experienced a year-over-year sales increase, with edibles and extracts accounting for a greater percentage of total revenue in 2020-21 than the year prior.

Notably, dried cannabis accounted for 71.5 per cent of revenue in 2020-21, down from 85.6 per cent the year before.


The report says Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries will monitor saturation in the cannabis market in certain areas of Winnipeg. The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba's website now lists 71 licensed stores in Winnipeg alone.

Only 33 stores were licensed in all of Manitoba as of May 2020, before the province opened the retail market to anyone who is interested.

The corporation said it will also assess the current distribution model for cannabis, for which it is currently responsible.

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