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Pa. Legalizes Supermarket Wine Sales

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf this week signed into law a bill legalizing the sale of wine in grocery stores and expanding hours for state-run Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) stores on Sundays and holidays, among other far-reaching reforms. The law goes into effect Aug. 8.

Describing the bipartisan legislation as “the most significant step the commonwealth has taken to reform our liquor system in 80 years,” Wolf said  “As I have always said, my goal is to modernize the sale of liquor and beer in Pennsylvania, and this reform package finally brings Pennsylvania’s wine and spirits system into the 21st  century.”

Added House Speaker Mike Turzai, the prime sponsor of the legislation, “This privatization bill will bring consumers the added choice and convenience they have been asking for since Prohibition.”

The Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association (PFMA), based in Camp Hill, gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the measure. “We are very pleased that House members voted in favor of modernizing Pennsylvania’s wine sales, which is a significant first step in providing the convenience shoppers have requested,” said Alex Baloga, PFMA director of external relations, while President and CEO David McCorkle observed, “We hope the legislature will continue to look at ways to offer adult beverage sales with greater convenience for consumers.”

For its part, the state liquor control board pledged its support in implementing the legislation. “We commit to cooperation and open communication with the administration, the legislature, licensees, wine and spirits vendors, beer distributors, our retail customers and other stakeholders as we begin transforming Pennsylvania's beverage alcohol landscape in coming weeks and months,” said Tim Holden, board chairman. The PLCB has already undertaken a comprehensive review of the many changes the new law makes to regulatory, licensing, product procurement and marketing activities, among other items.

Not everyone approved of the new law, however. Referring to the legislation as “reckless,” Wendell W. Young IV, president of Plymouth Meeting-based United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1776, contended: “This privatization proposal will begin draining dollars from the state immediately, and by reducing foot traffic in the Wine & Spirits stores, weaken this asset. Modernizing the PLCB makes the most sense for Pennsylvania, especially given the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit.” Young instead suggested opening more PLCB stores within or next to grocery stores or beer distributors to improve consumer access.

Noting that wine accounted for 42 percent of total sales in PCLB stores, or more than $848 million in revenue in the last fiscal year, Young pointed out that the most popular brands – those most likely to be sold by big-box chains – accounted for about $518 million of total wine sales.

Young also cautioned that states that have outsourced the sale of wine, among them Iowa and West Virginia, ultimately lost the entire asset to the private sector; for instance, Iowa, within three years of privatization, saw a 25 percent drop in revenues to the state.

Others don’t believe the law goes far enough, since spirits sales remain under the control of the PLCB. “Pennsylvanian consumers want a good selection of products at competitive prices – not segregated spirits that force them to make multiple shopping stops,” noted David Wojnar, VP of the Washington, D.C.-based Distilled Spirits Council.

The Keystone State is the 12th-largest wine market in the United States, according to Wine Spectator magazine.

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