by Ian Silverstone
In most parts of the country, picking up a nice bottle of Pinot Noir for dinner can be accomplished in the same one-stop shopping trip as stocking up on things like juice boxes and cat food. But if you live in, say, New York, or Pennsylvania, things aren’t so simple. In fifteen states, it is still impossible for consumers to purchase wine in the same place where they buy their food.
Advocates for introducing wine into grocery stores claim that alcohol separation laws limit consumer access and harm local winemakers — and that legislation to address these issues in different states has not happened fast enough.
But the needle may soon be moving. The last few months have seen renewed efforts across the country to introduce wine and beer into grocery stores, and in several places progress is underway to overturn these restrictions, if slowly. After years of debate, wine lovers in Tennessee will be able to purchase bottles in the supermarket as early as July. The law passed through voter referendum way back in 2014, giving it a 20-month delay before it can go into effect across the state. On top of that, Tennessee consumers may not see wine on grocery stores shelves until 2017, if those stores happen to be within 500 feet of a liquor store already selling wine.
A groundswell of support for wine in grocery stores is also helping push new laws in Oklahoma. Just this week, legislation seeking a statewide vote to expand wine and beer sales cleared the state’s Senate Rules Committee. Backed by the advocacy group Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom as well as several large retailers, the measure would allow wine and beer in grocery and convenience stores, and would also allow retail liquor stores to begin vending any products typically sold at grocery or convenience stores.
Major grocery chains are bringing a lot of muscle to the debate as well. A political battle brewing in Mississippi, as retail giants like Kroger and Wal-Mart have gotten behind the Looking for Wine campaign to bring wine to more stores. The grassroots-style campaign, which has a website, a sizable Facebook following, newsletter and Twitter feed, has combined the business interests of corporate groups with the consumer interests of people across the state, who have been vocal in their desire for better access to a greater selection of wine.
Riding the tail of recent legalization successes in Colorado is the grassroots “75 Stores in 75 Days” campaign. Spearheaded by advocacy group Your Choice Colorado, the outreach effort is putting volunteers in grocery stores across the state to engage with customers and discuss the benefits of allowing wine and beer sales in grocery stores. The campaign has focused on a messaging strategy that questions why out-of-state residents enjoy access to Colorado-produced wine and beer in grocery stores, while Coloradoans ironically cannot do the same. According to the group, ballot proposals to lift the wine and beer ban in grocery stores for been filed for a hopeful statewide vote this November.
This growing momentum points to major changes in the structure of how wine is sold, and also opens up more complex questions about how states will address and reform their Alcoholic Beverage Control models going forward. It is now only a question of when the remaining states will decide whether to close the gaps in consumer access to wine consumers still face.
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WineAmerica is the national voice of the American wine industry. Based in Washington, D.C., WineAmerica represents wineries in 43 states and leads a coalition of state and regional wine and grape associations. As an industry leader, WineAmerica encourages the dynamic growth and development of American wineries and winegrowing through the advancement and advocacy of sound public policy.