If you can’t buy wine in your local supermarket, do you think you should be allowed? Massachusetts residents will be asked essentially that question on a statewide ballot initiative this November. If I were a resident of the Commonwealth, I would vote yes.
As crazy as it may sound to residents of California, Illinois or Florida, many states in the northeast still have laws that prohibit the sale of wine in supermarkets. Wine and spirits must be sold at spearate (but equal?) stores. Chains are prohibited in New York where licensees can only have one license in the entire state. Massachusetts is somewhat better with a maximum of three locations per licensee.
Here’s why I would vote yes on “question 1” on November 7:
1. Convenience. If you are going to have wine with dinner, you can’t get more convenient than buying wine where you are also buying the ingredients for dinner.
2. Price. The prices of high volume wines would come down. The Massachusetts Food Association, a trade group that is pushing the initiative, estimates that the reform would save wine consumers between $26 – $36 million. While it’s hard to say exactly how much it would save, it’s easy to tell which wines would benefit. If a consumer wants a branded commodity wine, then they should be able to get that at rock bottom prices. The large purchases of supermarkets and big box retailers would give them the clout to deliver those low prices.
3. End the stigma of wine as “different.” Wine has made significant inroads into American life in the past decade. For that to continue, it has to be easy to buy and at a good price. Selling wine next to cheese and not in a different store will continue this positive trend.
4. The big retailers will have increased clout in the market to offset the clout that the distributors crurrently wield.
5. Sales to minors will not increase as a group against the initiative suggests. It’s funny to see shopkeepers using this rhetoric since it is usually employed by the distributors. Many supermarket chains require any alcohol purchase to be done with an ID. Some even enter the ID number into the computer system.
6. Lest you think I am being too cruel on the “mom and pop” package stores, it will actually improve the small shops that survive. Instead of selling branded commodity wines with thin margins, they will be able to move more upmarket and sell premium wines with fatter margins. They will be forced to provide a better selection, better service, and better wine events than the supermarkets. And that will be a boon for the both the curious and the enthusiast wine drinker.
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Question 1: Sale of Wine by Food Stores
This proposed law would allow local licensing authorities to issue licenses for food stores to sell wine. The proposed law defines a “food store” as a retail vendor, such as a grocery store, supermarket, shop, club, outlet, or warehouse-type seller, that sells food to consumers to be eaten elsewhere (which must include meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, and other specified items), and that may sell other items usually found in grocery stores. Holders of licenses to sell wine at food stores could sell wine either on its own or together with any other items they sell.