Quebec Liquor Corporation |  Privileges for a VIP clientele

Quebec Liquor Corporation | Privileges for a VIP clientele

December 23rd is usually the busiest day at the SAQ. If you plan to shop there today, know that if you spend any hefty sums, say $25,000 a year, you could join the crown corporation’s Great Connoisseurs program.

Composed of 400 people, this group has access to personalized services and certain products that are not normally found on the shelves of the branches. Although this commercial practice aimed at favoring a segment of the clientele is considered in accordance by the experts we interviewed, it still raises questions for some, since the state company, in a monopoly situation, has a duty of universal accessibility.

In addition, the existence of this group is little known to all SAQ clients, since the latter does not promote it on its website. In fact, this is a category of shoppers defined by spending that is now easily trackable thanks to SAQ’s loyalty program, Inspire. Buyer profiles range from “friendly” and “trendy” to that prestigious segment of Great Connoisseurs.

exclusive service

Those who are part of it have the right to personalized treatment by advisers who are aware of their needs and can also meet with viticulturists to carry out tastings, with a purchase commitment. This segment of Great Connoisseurs has existed for several years, specifies the SAQ. To gain access, the average price of bottles purchased by a customer must be at least $75, for an annual spend of more than $25,000. It also gives exclusive access to rare products that will never be offered on the shelves, stock products.

“A small part of the provisions for high-end products is reserved for aging and sale, particularly to High Connoisseur customers,” explains the SAQ in a document obtained under the Law on access to documents held by public bodies and protection of personal data.

Meals, “verticals” and travel

Every year, the Great Connoisseurs can participate in about thirty “meetings”, confirms the spokeswoman for the state company, Geneviève Cormier. “The formula is essentially a meal attended by producers who come to present their products. The costs of these meetings are assumed by the SAQ, but it is important to mention that the sales resulting from these events are greater than the costs of your organization. »

“On rare occasions, they may be offered products to complete a vertical,” he also explains.

A “vertical” is a series of bottles of the same wine, from the same estate, from consecutive vintages. This makes it possible to compare its evolution, depending on the vintage (vertical tasting).

This series of bottles are highly sought after at auctions, especially if they are from prestigious houses.

The great connoisseurs are also invited to participate in the wine tours. “Each of these trips is paid for by the participants and is accompanied by a significant purchase commitment,” insists me cormier. The expenses associated with the travel, lodging and work of the SAQ representative that accompanies them are assumed by the participating Great Connoisseurs. »

commercial mandate

This particular attention paid to a wealthy clientele who like more expensive wines is in keeping with SAQ’s business mission, believes Luc Bernier, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

“A Crown corporation, by definition, has public policy objectives and a business mission,” he recalls. You have to balance the two. »

According to him, the Big Connoisseurs program makes sense, just like the Inspire program which, at the time of its creation, raised several questions about its relevance in a state monopoly.


The Inspire program raised several questions about its relevance to a state monopoly at the time of its creation.

“In the trade mission, it makes sense to treat the most interesting customers better”, says Luc Bernier. It’s like getting on the Air Canada plane for the Super Elites before everyone else. »

However, the expert believes that the SAQ should remain cautious in granting privileges. “A government corporation must also aim at the general interest, a notion that sometimes needs to be redefined,” he specifies. The state corporation, which is the SAQ, has to save a bit of shame. It’s not supposed to favor a part of the clientele too much compared to the totality of the clientele. »

It’s a marketing tool, because it encourages these big customers to keep doing it.

Luc Bernier, Professor at the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

If the practice is in line with the commercial mission of the SAQ, it nevertheless raises questions about the universal accessibility of the wines that the monopoly should offer, specifies Frédéric Laurin, professor of economics at the University of Quebec, in Trois-Rivieres.


According to Mr. Laurin, the idea of ​​offering an additional service to a certain niche clientele is legitimate, but reserving products for them inevitably limits access to other clients. “That’s the biggest frustration for someone who doesn’t have $25,000,” he says. A wine lover who buys $25 bottles will not have access to services that may interest him because, if he is not a “great connoisseur”, in the words of the SAQ, he can still love good Burgundy wines, even treat himself to grand cru from time to time.


Frédéric Laurin, professor of economics at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières

“My workhorse has always been accessibility,” recalls the professor, author of the book Where are the wines?.

He himself sometimes struggles to get hold of a cuvée that is offered in Montreal, but cannot be found on Mauricie’s shelves or online at

“In La Baie, on the other hand, if I want to buy a medium size black T-shirt and it’s in Kamloops, I can keep it,” he compares.

For wine, the problem with the Grands Connaisseurs program is also that it prevents customers who do not respect a minimum spend from accessing prestigious bottles.

In addition, the small onion treatment reserved for the largest buyers of the SAQ is in contradiction with its public health mandate, recalls Michel Séguin, professor in the department of organization and human resources at the Faculty of management sciences of the ‘University of Quebec in Montréal.

“The government has decided to create a state corporation whose mission, like the [Société québécoise du cannabis], to support a type of trade that guarantees reasonable consumption and limits the impact on health. »

According to him, the relevance and legitimacy of the monopoly derive from its public health mission, in addition to its economic mission.

“Any marketing strategy that aims to promote greater consumption, in order to generate greater profits, is questionable in relation to this public health mission. »

With the collaboration of William Leclerc, Press

More information

  • 226.2 million
    Number of liters of alcohol sold by the SAQ for the year 2021-2022. These are the highest annual sales of the last 10 fiscal years of the state corporation.

    Source: Quebec Liquor Corporation

    Average price per liter of products sold in the SAQ for the year 2021-2022. This is the highest price per liter of the last 10 years.

    Source: Quebec Liquor Corporation

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