One of the greatest things about Canada is its diversity. From coast to coast, the scenery, people, and economies of each province differ incredibly—so much so that it can be difficult to compare them. According to Statistics Canada, in August 2021 Canadians purchased $356.9 million in cannabis from the 2501 legal retailers in business at the time. With a population of 38.2 million, that’s an average of 1 store per 15,292 people and an average of $9.33 in sales per capita, giving each retailer around $142,720.11 in sales per month.
Of course, not every province has the same rules, rent, or markets, but let’s see how they compare.
First things first, let’s address the big fleur-du-lis in the room: Quebec. This province has a tight hold on cannabis retail, with the only legal retailers being its 77 government-run stores. Due to its high population and low number of stores, it tops both lists when it comes to average sales per store, however, the data is somewhat skewed.
Despite its attempt to provide safe access to legal cannabis, Quebec is actually the province failing at it the most with only one store per 111,747 people—that’s at least four times more than any other province. Even in Montreal, a city of around 1.7 million people, there are only nine stores, and while that means each store brings in an average of $2,938,111.11 per month in sales, that means each store has to serve, potentially, 188,889 people. At least in Montreal, customers seem to want to pay: sales per capita in Quebec’s most populous city sit at $15.55 but fall drastically elsewhere. Gatineau, with a population of 1.4 million, only has two stores—one per 704,000 people, each only spending $1.21.
Province-wide, the average sales per store hover just over $678,000, and per capita, Quebecers spend $6.07. According to consumer data, Quebec has the lowest rate of cannabis use in the country, a fact the government has said it’s proud of, however, how many of its citizens in underserved areas are still going to the illicit market when a store is too far away, or online retailers who sell a wider variety of products to customers under the age of 21?
In Atlantic Canada, we continue to see the trend of public stores succeeding in sales but not access.
New Brunswick, with its 20 government-run Cannabis NB stores, pulls in an average of $359,600 each, but there’s only one store for every 39,461 people. Still, per capita, the people of New Brunswick spend around $9 each. Similarly, Nova Scotia’s 33 stores earn $261,060.60 each per month but potentially have to serve 30,062 people, bringing sales per capita down to $8.68.
Newfoundland and Labrador, however, sacrifice a bit on average sales per store ($183,700) to provide more access. Each of the province’s 31 stores serves around 16,800 people, but per capita sales sit higher, at $10.59 per capita.
Atlantic Canada shows a fascinating microcosm of public stores versus private stores. While it’s clear that Canadians on the East coast are interested in buying legal cannabis, it appears that they prefer not to buy it from the government.
Canada’s western-most province is another interesting case study. Provincially, BC comes in at number five when it comes to the highest average sales per store, however, when we zoom in on one of Canada’s largest population centres, Vancouver, the numbers change drastically.
As of the end of August, there were 372 stores in BC, each bringing in an average of $140,500 each. With one store per 14,000 people and per capita sales of $10.02, it appears to be on track with the national average. When we take a closer look at Vancouver, however, we see that a city of 2.2 million people only has 50 stores to support it, which is one store per 45,000 people.
Historically, BC has had a reputation for selling and producing cannabis, which is what may be causing problems now. Entrenched organized crime, unlicensed retailers, and many municipalities and suburbs in and around Vancouver opting out of cannabis retail are all giving the province a hard time. Not only that but complaints with how the provincial government is handling cannabis retail, as well as exorbitantly high licensing fees and living costs in Vancouver, are keeping retailers away.
These numbers show that British Columbia may have all the eggs for a successful cannabis industry, they’re just not in the right baskets.
Alberta retailers, unfortunately, end up at the bottom of the list when it comes to average sales per store. Each of the province’s 673 stores only brings in, on average, $89,867.76 per month. This may seem dire, but when it comes to access, Alberta shoots to the top of the list.
Alberta is Canada’s fourth-most populous province but is second place in store numbers, and while it may affect retailers’ bottom line, Alberta citizens are much better served than in other provinces, with each store serving 6,602 people and per capita sales of $13.60.
Even in Albertan cities, this trend continues. The 148 retailers in Edmonton earn $139,837.84 per month each, slightly less than the national average, however, each serves 7,176 people with per capita sales of nearly $20 ($19.49). Calgary fares less well, with its 170 retailers bringing in less than $100,000 per month ($97,670), but sales per capita still stay above $10 at $13.84.
The saturation situation in Ontario, and Toronto more specifically, has been on analysts’ minds since the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) started approving 30 stores per week in the province. According to sales for August 2021, however, the numbers have been holding strong—at least for now.
Provincially, Ontario is fairly close to the national average, but it is starting to slip. Each of Ontario’s 1068 stores (at the time) brought in just over $130,000, and with a population of just over 14.2 million, each store has to serve 13,882 people, with per capita sales of $9.39.
When we focus on the cities, surprisingly, Ottawa and Toronto are doing much better. Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, has 180 stores to serve 2.8 million people, around 15,556 each, but at least Torontonians are into legal cannabis, making per capita sales $16.66.
Ottawa has considerably fewer stores at 37, and its citizens are not as well served as in Toronto, with each store serving 38,000 people. Per capita sales drop in Ottawa as well, to $9.99.
It seems that Ontario needs to rearrange the eggs in its baskets as well.
That’s a lot of numbers—but what do they mean?
It appears that adequate access for consumers has a hard time co-existing with adequate profits for retailers. While a high number of stores spread out in the right areas can lead to better access for consumers and greater per capita sales, we see that it generally leads to lower sales per store.
Do profits need to be sacrificed in the name of better access to legal cannabis for Canadians? Or vice-versa? Could e-commerce be the sweet spot to providing better access while bolstering profits? With more provinces allowing online sales, it will be fascinating to see how these numbers change in 2022.