Could SAQ branches disappear from the Quebec landscape? This is feared by the union representing store workers, who suspect the Crown corporation of wanting to replace branches with “SAQ counters” inside certain convenience stores and grocery stores in several municipalities.

The union also fears that several stores will turn into real drop-off points where customers would simply pick up their orders online.

“Currently, we have more agencies, that is to say convenience stores and grocery stores that have a permit to sell SAQ products, than there are branches. The SAQ would like to accentuate [this trend] by closing branches to send it to the private sector, ”says Lisa Courtemanche, president of the Union of store and office employees of the Société des alcools du Québec (SEMB-SAQ-CSN).

The SAQ network has 410 branches and 428 agencies, according to the 2023 annual report, published recently. “Currently, our employment contract prohibits the closing of branches to replace them with agency permits,” says Courtemanche.

The 5,400 members of the union have been without a collective agreement since March 31, 2023. During negotiations, which have been ongoing since January, management would have opened a breach to modify the clause, according to the president.

According to her, the branches in the region could “scoop”.

If this desire were to become reality, it would result in job losses. The owner of the grocery store or convenience store usually assumes sole responsibility for the sale of wine or spirits. “It’s a setback for our jobs, it’s a setback for consulting, it’s a setback in product diversity,” continues Lisa Courtemanche.

“We do not intend to publicly discuss the conversations taking place at the bargaining table,” SAQ spokesperson Geneviève Cormier replied when asked by La Presse if the company The state did indeed intend to review the composition of its network.

“Between 2017 and 2023, the number of branches has increased from 405 to 410 while the number of agencies has increased, for the same period, from 436 to 428. This is therefore five additional branches for eight fewer agencies. The numbers speak for themselves, she added. The SAQ is committed to maintaining an exceptional customer experience and is responsible for providing local service throughout Quebec. »

In addition, the efforts put in place to boost online sales and the investment of $137 million for the expansion of the distribution center located in Montreal are also worrying union members about the future of the branches. They fear that stores will become mere drop-off points where wine and spirits lovers will pick up orders placed on the website.

“The acceleration of online sales will also have an effect on our branches, which will have to be revisited according to this new reality and to offer, in particular, a more important space reserved for the picking of online orders”, indicates the company of State in its Strategic Plan 2024-2026.

“They hold back products for customers to go online. It’s a loss of in-store product offerings,” said Ms. Courtemanche, recalling that online sales are “underperforming.”

According to the 2023 annual report, online sales – which account for 3.1% of sales – reached $93.3 million compared to $106.4 million for the previous fiscal year, a decrease of 12.3%.

“After significant growth during the pandemic, there is a return to the pre-pandemic level, explains Geneviève Cormier. This is also a generalized trend in e-commerce in Canada. »

In addition to the future of the branches, the status of precarious employees is among the points of discussion at the bargaining table. Everything would move at “a snail’s pace”, according to Ms. Courtemanche. Meetings are scheduled for next week.