Colorado: Distilled Spirits Council in Denver shopping for legislators to carry law allowing liquor sales in grocery stores
Source: The Denver Post
By Jason Blevins
Makers of hard liquor want their bottles to be on grocery and convenience store shelves if Colorado’s alcohol sales laws are changed.
It’s a matter of fairness, a strategist for the Distilled Spirits Council said Wednesday.
The trade group is in Denver this week in defensive mode, lobbying Colorado lawmakers to craft legislation that would allow the sale of spirits anywhere full-strength beer and wine are sold. At the same time, a coalition is collecting signatures for a November ballot measure that would permit sales of full-strength beer and wine – but not liquor – at supermarkets and convenience stores.
Excluding liquor from a rewrite of state alcohol laws that expands opportunities to buy beer and wine would be discriminatory, said David Ozgo, who heads economic and strategic analysis for the D.C. trade association.
If voters approve the potential ballot measure supported by Your Choice Colorado, liquor stores could lose up to half their business, Ozgo said. Some would not survive, roiling liquor’s only route to market in Colorado.
And, Ozgo said, enough with the talk about beer drinkers versus wine drinkers versus liquor drinkers.
“Most people drink all three and most people want the convenience of buying all three at one single store,” Ozgo said, noting that 27 states already allow liquor sales in grocery stores. “Clearly the public is more than OK with it.”
National sales volume of spirits climbed 2.3 percent in 2015, reaching 215 million cases. Revenues climbed 4.1 percent to $24.1 billion in 2015. Colorado sales in 2015 eclipsed the national pace, with the number of cases sold cracking the 5 million mark for the first time, up 4.3 percent from the previous year. Since 2010, annual increases of liquor sales in Colorado have averaged 3.5 percent, compared with 2 percent nationally.
“Obviously people in Colorado don’t have a problem with distilled spirits,” Ozgo said. “The market share for distilled spirits in Colorado is higher than it is nationwide. Sales are growing nicely and the public is clamoring for it. So why not make it more convenient for them?”
The council is not discussing what the legislation might look like or naming any lawmakers that have shown support for their fight. But the trade group could have legislation “here shortly,” Ozgo said.
Colorado’s affection for liquor is fueled by the state’s strong economy and the influx of millennials. Colorado also is home to more than one-tenth of the nation’s 750-plus craft liquor makers.
The Distilled Spirits Council says liquor stirs $2.2 billion in direct and indirect economic activity in Colorado, which includes distilling, distribution, retail and support services. The industry supports about 31,600 jobs and generates $212 million in state and local taxes, according to the trade group.
Your Choice Colorado, which started working toward a ballot question in November that could push beer and wine into grocery stores, said in January that it would not include liquor sales in its effort.
On Wednesday, the group said it was pleased to see other organizations acknowledge it’s time to change Colorado’s alcohol sales laws.
“We hope legislators and other industry leaders will look at new ideas through a fresh lens and find a way towards a compromise,” Your Choice Colorado campaign manager Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa said in a statement. “But if they don’t, we are planning to take this directly to the Colorado voters in November. Like other Colorado products who have grown because of exposure through grocery store sales, we can do the same thing for our Colorado craft brewers and winemakers.”
Opponents of the proposed ballot measure said it would fight any effort to push alcohol sales beyond liquor stores.
“Our existing laws work well for 1,600-plus local liquor stores, more than 500 Colorado craft producers, and thousands of customers who benefit from that relationship,” said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for the Keep Colorado Local group, a coalition of liquor store owners, craft brewers and distillers, and industry trade groups. “Expanding beer and wine sales to more than 1,500 grocery and convenience stores will have negative impacts on local businesses and public safety, and we expect voters will straight up reject the measure under the idea that ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ “