The Downside For Consumers of Grocery Store Wine Sales

The state of Tennessee is considering allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores.

Today at FERMENTATION, we examine the downside for consumers of having wine available for purchase in grocery stores.

Thank you for reading.

14 Responses

  1. Jim Wilkerson - February 1, 2013

    You forgot one:


  2. Tom Wark - February 1, 2013


    Thanks….I did forget that one.

  3. Kurt Burris - February 1, 2013

    In all seriousness there is one down side to wine in chain stores, at least from the point of view of a small winery representative in California. The chains all carry the same boring wines, mostly made by Gallo, Franzia or some Constellation operation. It’s actually easier to find something from a small winery or boutique importer when I go visit family in Colorado where wine is not sold in the chains. There are good wine shops here in Sacramento, but only a handful. Most of the liquor stores are in reality places to buy lottery tickets and cigarettes, not good wine. The chain domination reduces choice for the consumer and makes it harder for a small operator to sell his product.

    That being said, not having wine in grocery stores is anti competitive and an unfair impediment to the consumer and should be allowed everywhere.

    One question though Tom. I know you are not a fan of the three tier system. Why do the distributors not want wine in grocery stores? Wouldn’t it make it easier for the big distributors to further dominate the marketplace by having purchasing decisions made at a corporate level the way chain buying is done?

  4. Larry Chandler - February 1, 2013

    There are some very fine wine shops in California, at least in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, probably many other cities too. And in small towns, even if the supermarket didn’t sell wine, chances of finding a fine bottling at a small liquor store would be close to non-existent. It is possible that if supermarkets sold wine in states where they don’t now, some small stores would close, but people will be still able to get whatever’s available in the state.

    Also, I don’t think it’s the distributors who don’t want wine sold in supermarkets. It’s usually either the religious factions or, like in New York, the powerful liquor store lobby.

  5. Scott B - February 1, 2013

    I agree with Kurt. Wine in grocery stores pushes the lowest common denominator giant suppliers. Independent wine shops need the casual consumer picking up the bottle of Pinot Grigio to subsidize a diverse selection of wines they feature. They also do curious wine drinkers a favor by guiding them away from dull commercial wines to other more interesting wines, often at the same or lower prices. There is no wine service in a grocery store apart from the odd shelf talker touting a score.

    By taking the casual consumer out of the mix it makes it harder for small stores to survive. You end up with a few scattered boutique shops who tend to run with higher markups but overall less availability for smaller production imported and domestic wines that sommeliers in restaurants are creating the demand for. I often have guests ask where they can buy a particular wine I serve them and more often than not my answer is nowhere. I’m not a big fan of shipping wine (even when it’s possible) but more and more that’s where you have to go to get a lot of things.

    • Larry Chandler - February 1, 2013

      Scott, no question a good wine store is better than a supermarket for finding something special. But in small towns, most liquor stores don’t have any more of a clue about good wines than the cashier at Safeway. And if there is a fine wine store, he’ll still be around when Safeway comes to town, especially if he finds new ways to do business and not depend on Yellow Tail. As far as you being unable to tell a customer where to buy a particular wine, well, find out and tell him. You bought it, so can he.

  6. Kurt Burris - February 2, 2013

    Larry: My way of comparing is Colorado v California. I live in the heart of Sacramento and there are more good wine shops near my brother’s house in Lakewood, CO than by me. Yes there are good wine shops in CA. . I am lucky enough to have Corti Bros. as my neighborhood grocer. But, friends who live in the heart of restaurantville in midtown Sac cannot buy a decent bottle of wine anywhere, unless they are willing to settle for what PDQ or Safeway stocks.

    • Owen Smith - February 2, 2013

      Taylors on Freeport and now the Downtown & Vine tasting bar/wineshop ‘on the Kay’ are now possibilities for midtown/downtown. Selland’s is more East Sac, but is another place with some more unusual selections. And the Nugget locations, while they do have all the corporate stuff, have more interesting selections as well. In any case, it is true for any product, not just wine, that the higher-end, boutique products will be harder to find. Also true, though, that unless new consumers are able to easily find a variety of palatable (if not exciting) wine, they will probably never feel confident moving up. Almost nobody starts out buying $50 bottles.

    • Larry Chandler - February 2, 2013

      Kurt: It’s true that there will be some downside if supermarkets sell wine. But retailers need to find ways to promote their selections. Many businesses need to learn how to market instead of just building it so they will come. And you did mention you were not in favor of shipping wines. Granted, the quality control isn’t there, but wouldn’t that be something that could be fixed? Some wineries (and possibly some retailers) are now shipping with ice packs so the wines don’t overheat.

  7. Donn Rutkoff - February 4, 2013

    Disclaimer: I am a wine steward in a Safeway Corp. store in Calif. Opinions are my own. One fact, the upside of grocery retail, yes it is mostly, but not all big brand corporates, but more a factor is big wholesaler, so smaller brands handled by a big distributor do get a chance. But it occurred to me that the success of big brands does give a lot of big brand employees the opportunity to learn the business and then go out on their own creating new entries into the world. The wine specialty shops in Calif. bring the new guys to market all the time. Thanks for giving a good word . . . or two . . . . for having the grocers in. We sell a large amount of wine to average consumers.
    Well made wine under $10 is not a bad thing. And in the grocery store with good wine employees, moving up from $10 into $20 or $30 carries a lot less risk to consumer. And my advice to wine specialty shops, is talk plain English and be happy to meet every consumer who drinks white zin, one of them per day will buy something a little higher up if treated nicely.

  8. John Dorminey - February 4, 2013

    Great comments from all! I think one thing that helps the Colorado wine shop scene is the legal limit of only one permit per individual/company. If you don’t provide service, value, selection, etc for your target clientele, you don’t survive. Free market at its very best! Coincidentally, this same restriction exists Tennessee.
    That said, I agree with Tom. Sure, when chains like Total Wine, or grocery chains with aggressive wine prices, come to a city, there is always the initial closing of stores that don’t adjust to their new market. Within a matter of a year or so, new independent stores start popping up. I believe TW, Safeway, Kroger are the first retail places many folks try wines. Lots of states allow in-store tastings. More new wine drinkers are created in grocery wine aisles than wine shops — but that doesn’t mean they don’t eventually find their way to the wine shops. When they do venture out, hopefully it is to find something new, something different, something they can’t find at the grocery store.

  9. Wine Guy - February 5, 2013

    Interesting empty blog post lol. Anyway I don’t think wine sales in grocery stores is necessarily a bad thing. It makes the wines visible so more people try it out. If they so desire, they can eventually pick up better wines elsewhere. Basically it acts as an introduction and gets more exposure from the public. Some people would never set foot in a small wine shop in the first place.

  10. Vinny - February 7, 2013

    The essence of Tom’s article obviously was not found in the body of the article but rather in the comments provided by the readers of the (non) article.
    Great job Tom!

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