What’s Best For Wine Consumers?
This is the underlying question in a Memphis Commercial Appeal article written by Fredric Koeppel that considers the impact of locally-owned alcohol wholesalers that are bought by larger, multi-state, non-local companies. Just such a thing has occurred a number of times n Memphis. Where this southern city once hosted six, family-owned, local distributors of alcohol, now, after successive buyouts and consolidations, only two remain.
The article quotes Scott Smith, an owner of a wine shop in Memphis in which Smith worries about the impact of the consolidation and non-local ownership:
"I have some concerns that these large companies will not be amenable to carrying products that are not high volume or that don't advertise. At this store we try to carry products from smaller and perhaps unknown wineries. When they were independent, the local wholesalers would bend over backward to bring in wines that we had read about or seen elsewhere. I worry that that won't be the case now."
Scott Rawlins, President of Glazers Memphis, part of a large multi-state wholesaler company, responds with a Not-to-worry attitude:
"I've heard that argument, but it's our feeling that our reliance on local leadership to represent us in the marketplace along with our depth of knowledge as a multi-state distributor results in the best situation for the consumer."
It' an interesting response because it begs the question, just what is "The best situation for the wine consumer?"
I think I know
CONVENIENT ACCESS TO THE BROAD ARRAY OF PRODUCTS AVAILABLE.
In a nutshell this is what's important to the wine consumer marketplace not just in Memphis, but in every market in the United States. Wine is unique as a product because of the huge diversity of wines that exist in the United States. No other product category has within such a diversity. Giving consumer access to this diversity is paramount. To do so means the following and this is the prescription for a well-functioning, consumer-friendly marketplace:
1. Access to wine in grocery stores where consumers buy food and meal ingredients.
2. The existence of a diversity of wine specialty shops where consumers can get expert opinion on their purchasing options.
3. A regulatory and legal structure that allows retailers to purchase product from wholesalers or directly from out-of-state suppliers when local wholesalers don't carry a wine (The vast majority of wines sold in the United States are not available from any wholesalers in a given market.)
4. The legal ability of consumers to purchase wine from out-of-state or out-of-market wineries and retailer and have the wine shipped to them.
This is what's needed to create "The Best Situation for the Wine Consumer" in any given state or local marketplace. What's interesting is where points #1, 3 and 4 do not exist, wholesalers oppose changes to allow these conditions—including Glazers. Glazers, other wholesalers some retailers and many in the alcohol regulatory establishment oppose a consumer-centric wine regulatory system in favor of a wholesaler/middleman-centric regulatory system. It represents a conceptual failure in which the perspective of the customer is relegated to secondary and even third-place status.
In Memphis and the rest of Tennessee, wine consumers may not buy wine in grocery stores. Nor may they have wine shipped to them from out-of-state wine retailers. And it was only recently that Memphis consumers finally won the right to have wine shipped to them from out-of-state wineries.