“We want consumers to be informed about what they are buying”: Q&A with LCBO’s director of quality assurance

“We want consumers to be informed about what they are buying”: Q&A with LCBO’s director of quality assurance

Behind the scenes with LCBO’s Director of Quality Assurance, Dorina Brasoveanu, who oversees a team of chemists working to empower safe and informed consumption

Every Ontarian knows that the first step to planning a backyard barbeque or celebratory dinner is a visit to the LCBO. What many of LCBO’s customers may not know is that throughout the company’s near-100-year history, part of its goal has been to protect the health and well-being of consumers by ensuring products are of the highest quality—and that what’s on the label matches what’s in the bottle. As one of the world’s largest distributors and importers of alcoholic beverages, the LCBO has kept true to this mission by way of The LCBO Lab: a quality assurance program established to examine all products for safety and authenticity before they’re made available to consumers. Not only does The Lab ensure products adhere to Health Canada’s regulatory standards, but its standards are used as a benchmark for other Canadian liquor jurisdictions as well.

Dorina Brasoveanu, director of quality assurance, oversees The LCBO Lab’s team of chemists, technicians and coordinators who work on the testing of alcohol products sold in Ontario. For Dorina, transparency about how quality assurance works is an important part of empowering Ontarians to make sound and informed buying decisions. In conversation with Toronto Life, she shared a bit more about The LCBO Lab’s testing, tasting and verification procedures, what labelling details consumers should look out for, as well as the development of The LCBO Lab’s Sweetness Algorithm.

What are some of the most important testing components at The LCBO Lab?

There’s certainly a lot to look at, including additives, potential contaminants and sugar levels. Our team performs chemical analysis on numerous aspects of both domestic and international products to be certain of safe consumption and confirm what’s on the label is true. Since its establishment in the late ‘40s, our lab has evolved alongside the industry’s advancements—including technologies. Our chemists are now leading the development of new methods of analysis and testing capabilities.

How does The LCBO Lab increase product transparency and label accuracy? 

It’s important for us that all labelling is authentic and accurate because, at the end of the day, we want our consumers to be fully informed about what they are buying. Packaging reviews alongside chemical analysis ensure safety and empower Ontarians to make informed purchase decisions, for example, by detecting potential allergens. This testing also verifies the accuracy and validity of organic claims and allows us to translate sugar perception so that the product’s sweetness is communicated clearly. That’s why we developed The Sweetness Algorithm to measure residual sugar and acidity levels in wine and assign each wine a sweetness descriptor, so customers know how sweet or dry a wine tastes before they try it.

How has quality assurance shaped what we see on store shelves? 

Knowledge is key. The more expansive our testing capabilities have become, the more information we’ve been able to share. For example, we display the sugar content and sweetness descriptors for wine on in-store shelf tags and online so that consumers are empowered to make informed choices. Another example, when caffeinated alcoholic beverages caught the attention of health and safety researchers in Canada, The LCBO Lab’s testing measures became useful in further protecting consumers from a harmful combination. Today, caffeine may be present in some alcoholic beverages due to the use of flavouring ingredients that naturally contain caffeine, but The Lab ensures that products have caffeine levels as low as reasonably achievable and no higher than 30 mg per serving. 

How does The LCBO Lab align with the company’s other initiatives? 

The Lab shares a very important ethos and contributes greatly to LCBO’s social impact platform, Spirit of Sustainability. This effort focuses on three strategic pillars: Good People, Good Planet, and Good Partnerships. By ensuring the safety of products, committing to responsible supply chains through the Lightweight Glass program (which sets a maximum weight for glass wine products to reduce emissions), and by influencing beverage alcohol industry standards through LCBO-led initiatives, we’ve been able to hold ourselves at a higher standard and have a positive impact. This is our collective mission to protect the health and well-being of our customers, while generating a conversation around quality assurance and sustainability–for the good of Ontario. 

To learn more about The LCBO Lab, visit LCBO.com/TheLCBOLab.