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Rural vs. City: Which Stores Perform Better?

Data from Statistics Canada can be vital in enhancing our understanding of exactly how the retail cannabis industry is doing. Looking at monthly sales data from a few major Canadian cities, we can see if the country’s largest markets have reached saturation point yet, as well as extrapolate how retailers are doing outside of major city centres.

Alberta

The wealthiest Prairie province has always tended to lean towards privatization and cannabis is no different. While the province does have a hand in the industry as a wholesaler and online retailer, the government has mostly let the market do its thing.

During January 2021, the most recent data available, Alberta had 560 stores, including 129 in Calgary and 110 in Edmonton. In total, Alberta brought in nearly $58.4 million in cannabis sales, with Calgary and Edmonton contributing a combined $35.1 million, or 60.34%. This leaves retailers in Calgary an average of $123,627 per month, and those in Edmonton with an average of $174,355 per month.

Unfortunately, the 57% of stores outside of these two major cities make up less than 40% of sales, leaving each of them with an average of $72,501.

When we look at the population demographics of the province, this distribution makes sense, but some retailers in the province are concerned that the market is saturated. As the province with the second-highest sales, but one of the lowest average sales per store, the experts may be right.

Ontario

Canada’s largest province, by population, has been on everyone’s minds lately when it comes to the question of over-saturation. In January 2021, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) hadn’t yet bumped up Retail Store Authorizations to 30 per week, so Toronto’s 98 retailers earned $38.9 million in sales that month, or around $397,010 each, while in Ottawa, which had only eight stores at the time, generated $7.9 million in sales, or a whopping $989,125 each.

In the rest of the province, where the remaining 300 retailers do business, they bring in $143,840 each on average per month. This monthly average is similar to other provinces across the country, showing that Toronto, as well as Ottawa, still had room to grow—at least at the end of January. Now, Toronto has over 180 stores, and Ottawa has 21.

Other Provinces

Even when it comes to stores outside of major city centres, Quebec has the other province’s beat with sales per store. Each of the approximately 45 stores that reside outside of Montréal, Quebec City and Gatineau pull in around $455,800 per month, a total of $20.5 million—that’s only 41% of sales going to 76% of stores.

A similar trend is showing up in Manitoba and British Columbia, as well.

Manitoba, a province where around 60% of residents live in Winnipeg, has noticed a swell in retailers over 2020, especially in rural areas. In January, 56% of retailers (34 out of 60) had set up shop in Winnipeg but were raking in over 72% of sales, or $8 million, leaving rural retailers with $3.29 million. Still, both maintain a monthly average similar to the rest of the country: $235,382 in Winnipeg and $126,538 outside of the city. Due to the population of Manitoba being so spread out, a store isn’t always viable in some areas, so many residents would have to drive to their nearest store, likely in Winnipeg, to purchase cannabis, which we see in the data.

British Columbia’s extensive licensing process and expensive fees keep store numbers down, particularly in Vancouver, where the province’s grey market remains strong. Only 34 of the province’s 311 stores are in its largest city, but each earns around $336,333 per month, for a total of $12.1 million. The remaining 275 stores scattered throughout the province end up with an average of $103,018 per store.

The trend of city-stores making more profits than country-stores may not be surprising—it may even be obvious—but will it ever change? For every fork in the pie, someone else’s slice gets smaller. Will we one day see big brands giving rural areas a try, or will cannabis end up like a certain coffee shop: one on every corner?