How the LCBO is guiding shoppers to the right pairing

Tapping into local support is one way Ontario's alcohol retailer is trying to make shopping as stress-free as possible.
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As the state of both restaurants and the pandemic change, so do consumer drinking trends.

When looking just at Ontario, the province had a seven-day rolling average of 611 new COVID-19 cases daily as of Tuesday morning, a number some experts have projected could hit 1,000 per day at some point month. To stop the spread of this emerging second wave, the provincial government ordered bars and restaurants to shut down earlier, though others – including several public health officials – saying it should go a step further and close them completely once again.

Either measure still exacerbates the situation of businesses that are already struggling to survive, and it could further cement the at-home drinking trend as a normative behaviour for the rest of the year, especially as the winter months approach.

The LCBO has already seen a heightened customer desire to support local, according to a series of recent customer sentiment surveys it conducted. To address the customer sentiment of wanting to support local, the LCBO recently launched its “Pair It Forward” initiative, where owners of Ontario wineries, breweries and distilleries “pair” their products with those from other local businesses, with the goal of generating a chain reaction of support across the province.

For example, Curtis Schmalz – of Hanover, Ont.-based brewery, Maclean’s Ales – is pairing his beer and cider with food from Jeremy Austin’s Collingwood restaurant, The Pine.

According to Vanda Provato, VP of marketing and customer intelligence at the LCBO, customers wanting to support local is “a trend that existed before the pandemic,” but with more than 60% of Canadian restaurants at risk of permanently closing by November, customer desire to support local has grown. But supporting local businesses, outside of wineries and distillers, is not new territory for the LCBO, having frequently focused more on entire occasions – like meals, gatherings and entertaining – where wine or drinks are just one part of the experience.

“It delivers on our brand promise of perfect choices made easy, moments made great, by helping Ontarians discover and shop exciting new local products at time where customers are showing a keen desire to support Ontario’s food and beverage industry and help it grow,” Provato says, adding that this support will remain a key marketing priority through the holiday season, typically its busiest time of the year.

The pairings continue, not only through the ads and 24 Instagram stories, but also through a fall shopping guide and LCBO in-store signage that suggests things like cheeses that would pair nicely with that specific wine or beer. There is also region-specific suggestions on the “Pair It Forward” microsite,  Creative on “Pair It Forward” is being led Lg2, with PHD handling the media buy, which includes digital video, social, pre-roll and print.

The fall shopping guide is an evolution of it annual “Together For Ontario” initiative, which typically showcases a variety of Ontario VQA red, white and sparkling wines, but this year also features sections informing readers about the benefits of “pairing it forward.” The guide was distributed through unaddressed ad mail, and well as insertions in ecommerce and same-day pick-up orders.

LCBO is also introducing a virtual event series of VQA Ontario wines, with experts offer customers tutored tastings covering themes, pairings, recipes and trends to help make customers’ choice easier the next time they are shopping.

The informative approach also helps with another consumer trend the LCBO has seen around pre-shopping – planning out purchases in advance to make store visits as efficient as possible to ensure they are safe. That’s also why customers are looking for more convenient options, like buying online to pick up in store. To address this, Provato says the LCBO has expanded its same day pickup in-store option for online orders to more than 110 of its locations. Driving awareness of this, along with post office delivery options, will also be a key priority for the LCBO until at least the end of the year.