Colorado: 3.2 beer could disappear in Colorado
Adrian D. Garcia
April 11, 2016
There’s an aisle in the majority of Colorado grocery stores filled with nice, cold beer – beer that almost nobody wants.
A decade ago, beers with low-alcohol content were among the few options for Coloradans who wanted to pick up a six pack before watching Sunday football. But then in 2008, liquor stores throughout the state started selling “real beer” seven days a week and sales of the full-strength beers’ 3.2-percent-alcohol cousin started drying up.
If grocery giants Walmart, Kroger and Safeway-Albertsons successfully change Colorado’s alcohol laws, sales of “3.2 beer” in the state could disappear altogether.
Unknowing out-of-state residents and those who prefer convenience are the main purchasers of beer from grocery stores that aren’t licensed to carry full-strength beer, supermarkets say.
“I’m a fan of being able to pick up my beer in grocery stores,” said Dan Smith, a 25-year-old freshman at Colorado State University. “I came from San Diego where they did sell beer at grocery stores.”
After Smith moved to Fort Collins in early 2015, he picked up an 18-pack of Budweiser at the King Soopers on South College Avenue.
“An 18-pack for like 15 bucks seemed like a good deal, then I got it home and realized that it wasn’t,” Smith said of the grocery-bought beer’s less-than-desired effects.
He started buying beer from liquor stores and breweries after he found out most Colorado grocery stores can only sell low-alcohol beer with as much as 3.2 percent alcohol by volume. In a chain of stores, such as Target, King Soopers or Trader Joe’s, only one retail location in the state can sell full-strength beer, wine and liquor.
To draw beer drinkers like Smith, grocers are pushing a change to Colorado’s alcohol laws through the group Your Choice Colorado.
Changes proposed by Your Choice Colorado would allow all grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and wine, but not liquor. The group is currently collecting signatures to get a ballot question before voters in November.
Colorado’s liquor store owners largely oppose the change to put full-strength beer on grocery shelves, arguing it would cost their industry thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in sales across the state. Craft brewers have voiced concerns about getting their beers on grocery shelves largely dominated by large domestic brewers.
Groups opposing Your Choice Colorado have pitched ballot proposals that would block beer and wine sales in grocery stores.
“We’re in the business of carrying products that our customers want. If they’re asking for craft beer, then we don’t want to sell 3.2 beer,” said Safeway-Albertsons spokeswoman Kris Staaf.
Most of the 93 Albertsons and Safeway stores throughout the state sell beer with 3.2 percent alcohol, Staaf said. The same is true for the majority of Colorado’s 147 King Soopers, said store spokeswoman Kelli McGannon.
“Convenience is one of the top reasons people choose to shop at grocery stores. For that reason, we still carry (3.2 beer),” McGannon said. If grocery stores could sell full-strength beer, “you would certainly see 3.2 beer become obsolete in Colorado.”
Safeway-Albertsons “wouldn’t have a need to carry it,” Staaf said.
Both Safeway-Albertsons and King Soopers declined to share annual beer sales for propriety reasons. Safeway-Albertsons reportedly saw a double-digit percentage drop in 3.2 beer sales after liquor stores started selling on Sundays. King Soopers reported a similar decline after 2007.
Beer drinkers consumed 4.5 million gallons of 3.2 beer in 2015, generating $357,064 in revenue, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Both consumption and sales were down 68 percent – by roughly 3.1 million gallons of beer or $244,210 – from 2007 levels.
Only five companies are licensed to brew 3.2 beer throughout the state including New Belgium Brewing Co. and Anheuser-Busch in Fort Collins.
The 3.2 market in Colorado and the U.S. is already “very limited.” Production would “probably decrease,” but not halt completely, if full-strength beer is OK’d for grocery stores, said New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson.
“…. With a few other states like Utah, Kansas and possibly Oklahoma some day, we would still likely produce a 3.2 version of Fat Tire,” Simpson said in a statement. “If Utah and Oklahoma were to change their laws, we would have to revisit whether or not it makes sense to produce 3.2.”
It’s unclear if Anheuser-Busch would continue manufacturing 3.2 beer in Fort Collins.
“Ultimately, our focus is on the customer and we will be prepared to continue to provide Coloradans with the products they demand,” said Anheuser-Busch regional vice president Anson Frericks in a statement to the Coloradoan.