The Jones Farm Winery in Shelton (Jack Kramer / CTNewsJunkie)
WAYNE PESCE

As grocery retailers and their customers work to recover from the pandemic, we believe the time has come for Connecticut to remove existing barriers to the sale of wine in grocery stores and enable food retailers to create more jobs, help consumers reduce their daily travel needs, and provide new sources of revenue for the state’s budget. Today the vast majority of U.S. states – 36 states and the District of Columbia – permit the sale of wine in grocery stores.

The signing of the “Sunday Sales” bill in 2012 marked a watershed moment for Connecticut to change outdated Blue Laws and remove market barriers. Since Sunday Sales passed, the law has generally been well-received, and the state has benefited from increased sales taxes, bucking the doomsday scenarios that there would be mass closings of “mom-and-pop” stores as well as the misled predictions that the bill would be financially neutral to the state. In reality, package stores adapted, sales exceeded forecasts, and consumers benefited.

Also in 2012, the Food Industry Association underwrote a national wine economic impact study by California-based Stonebridge Research Group. Their analysis of store counts across states in which food stores and package stores both sell wine demonstrated that package stores can and do successfully continue in business.

From 2009-2012, in 22 of the then-34 states and D.C., the number of package stores actually increased, and, in one other, the number was stable. In the 12 remaining states, the number of package stores declined, but the number of food stores also declined in most of those cases. This trend indicates that broader economic factors – factors other than competition for wine sales – were likely involved.

Additionally, in several states in which the opening of the wine market has been under consideration, food retailers have supported a variety of compensation measures for existing license holders. These measures include implementing protected geographic zones around existing, smaller stores; transferring surcharges shared by existing license holders; and/or allowing existing license holders to expand their product offerings or to obtain multiple licenses themselves to grow their businesses. 

These compensating measures would protect existing package store businesses. In many cases, these measures would add value to existing liquor licenses by increasing demand (and thus their transfer value), should the license holder choose to sell his or her license. Altogether, data suggests opening the market for wine sales will have minimal impact on existing package stores. 

The Stonebridge study also indicates that customers tend to buy more per shopping trip when they shop for wine at food stores, producing an incremental sale of about $20 beyond the cost of the wine purchased. Allowing food stores to sell wine not only increases sales by the volume and value of the wine sold but also increases overall store sales due to the “basket effect” of shopping for wine.

Furthermore, this bill has a notable positive impact on Connecticut agriculture and tourism. 

Connecticut food stores are committed to increasing the offerings of Connecticut wines in their stores, should we be allowed to sell wine. If Connecticut wine came to represent just 1% of total projected food store wine sales (equivalent to 10,805 gallons, according to the Stonebridge study), it would represent a 27.6% increase in sales by local wineries and generate new jobs in wine and vineyards – not counting the potential impact on wine tourism and winery suppliers.

In order for Connecticut’s grocery community to stay competitive with national big-box chains and out-of-state online retailers, we aggressively advertise local products as a competitive advantage. Television, radio, digital media, billboards, truck backs, in-store signage, and shelf space are dedicated to supporting local products. Partnering with the state’s wine growers is a natural extension of our current business model and marketing strategies. 

In the coming months, Connecticut’s General Assembly will debate the merits of a variety of new revenue streams with social consequences, including recreational marijuana, sports gambling, and online lottery. Buying wine where food is purchased has merit and deserves similar thoughtful consideration by the legislature. Allowing food stores to sell wine will return wine to its appropriate and traditional role as part of a meal, thus encouraging healthy consumption and, at the same time, increasing consumer choice and convenience.

Wayne Pesce is President of the Connecticut Food Association, which is included among the advertising sponsors of this website.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.