News / Vancouver

Molson lays off workers at Vancouver brewery as craft beer industry booms

Fifteen workers have been laid off at Vancouver’s Molson Coors brewery in a move some experts say could be a sign of trouble brewing for big beer companies as consumer tastes shift to craft beers.

Gerry Bergunder, business agent for Local 300 — the brewery, winery and distillery workers union that represents Molson Coors’ employees at the company’s brewery on Burrard Street — said the layoffs took place about two weeks ago and affected bottle line workers, including label operators and mechanics.

About 10 per cent of the Vancouver brewery's 150 workers were laid off, although the union is in talks with the company to find a way to re-hire some staff, Bergunder said.

“We’re hoping that it will be temporary layoffs,” he said.

Jennifer Kerr, manager of corporate affairs for Molson Coors Canada, said the decision to downsize staff was made as a result of fluctuating consumer demand.

“It is a very competitive market,” she said.

Bergunder pointed to a combination of factors behind the layoffs, including a trend toward cans and a rise in the popularity of craft beers. He said he first noticed the shift in consumer demand for craft beer a couple of years ago.

“There has been a decline in sales,” he said. “I guess people just want to try something different.”

He said the union is hopeful the pendulum will eventually swing back to traditional beer brands.

“We look at these as fads,” Bergunder said. “It happened with Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice — they become popular and then they fade out.”

While craft breweries have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, Ken Beattie, executive director of the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild, said he doesn’t think the industry is solely to blame for beer giants seeing a decline in sales.

He said the buy-local phenomenon is driving the consumer shift and is affecting the entire liquor industry, including wine and spirit manufacturers.

“Everyone’s competing against each other for the same 19 to whatever-age drinking person,” he said.

Still, Beattie said he doesn’t expect to see the popularity of craft beers fade anytime soon.

In the past four years, Beattie said craft beer sales in this province have doubled and continue to grow, with 70 craft breweries currently operating and another 17 slated to open this year.

“People are changing their tastes,” he said. “I don’t think this is a trend and I don’t think the bubble’s going to burst anytime soon.”