Michigan: Grocery stores want to let customers shop while drinking beer or wine
February 11, 2016
An expanding southeast Michigan grocery chain is looking to start a new concept in its stores by turning to by-the-glass beer and wine sales so that customers can drink during a shopping trip.
Busch’s Fresh Food Market is seeking a Class C liquor license for the store it plans to open in Canton Township, west of Detroit.
That store would mark Busch’s first foray into setting up an in-store ‘bistro’ with beer and wine sales for customers.
“It will allow guests to walk through the store and let them drink alcohol while they’re shopping,” said John Hunter, director of marketing for the Ann Arbor-based, 15-store chain.
While Busch’s hasn’t finalized the bistro concept, which likely would include food along with alcoholic beverages, the move attempts to further distinguish the chain amid a highly competitive landscape.
“Michigan is a very, very saturated grocery market,” Hunter said. “It’s important to stay competitive and one step ahead of competitors.”
Grocery stores across the US have added by-the-glass beer and wine over the past several years. While the national pace hasn’t been rapid, more stores in Michigan appear to be turning to on-premise liquor licenses.
Whole Foods operated about 70 stores with wine bars as of 2013, including one on Eisenhower Parkway in Ann Arbor that opened in 2008. That represented about 18 percent of its US locations, which are now up to 416.
As part of the remodel efforts at the market, Bleachers Taproom opened Friday morning inside the Whole Foods location offering Michigan craft beers and a selection of wines for shoppers to enjoy either in the bar setting or while doing their grocery shopping.
Ann Arbor’s other Whole Foods store remodeled in 2014, adding a 50-seat Bleachers Tap Room. The store allows customers to sit and drink, or shop throughout the store. Whole Foods did not respond to requests for information on future plans, however store representatives said during the tap room launch that success at the other Ann Arbor store prompted the move.
“People like to get a glass of beer and make their shopping experience a little more relaxed,” said Mary Ann Nisley, the store marketer, for an MLive.com report at the time.
Lucky’s Market, which opened in Ann Arbor in February 2015, sought a resort liquor license to add “Sip n Stroll” to its stores, but the city turned down the request in July. Now, according to city officials, the Colorado-based grocery is buying a Class C license for its only Michigan store, and the transfer is pending.
Nationally, Target added beer and wine pours to its store in the Streeterville area of Chicago in fall 2015. It was paired with the Starbucks Evenings concept, where the coffee retailer adds beer and wine sales, along with small plate food offerings.
“Starbucks Evenings already has distribution in Chicago, so it was a natural fit for them to partner with Target on this concept,” wrote a Target spokesoman in an email. However, it’s unclear if it will grow to any of the other 1,800 Targets.
Kroger is another national chain that’s increased its pace of expanding in-store beer and wine options in stores. The grocery added growler stations – which allows refills of the larger containers, as well as glasses of beer or wine – in five states and the Pacific Northwest in 2015. Ken McClure, consumer communications manager in Michigan, said the chain has no plans to open a growler station here.
Selling beer and wine by the class is not responsible for high sales volume on its own, said a co-owner at another market in Michigan. However, when paired with additional strategies, it makes sense at Horrocks Market in Kentwood, near Grand Rapids.
The store distinguishes itself by creating shopper experiences, said Autumn Horrocks. It carries a full grocery line, but also has a greenhouse and indoor garden center, along with gourmet foods and specialty deli with a seating area.
The tavern area, with 30 craft beers on tap, “is a unique experience in our store,” Horrocks said. “We’re not a typical grocery store.”
Shoppers, she said, “are here for pleasure, as well as a shopping experience.”
The tavern was added about a year ago, and it features Michigan craft beers that rotate to feature new or rare beer. The staff is ready to help customers learn more about the beer. And while there isn’t seating available, customers are welcome to walk a glass over to the deli area.
Growler fills are responsible for more sales than glasses, Horrocks said, but that’s not a concern. It works because it adds to the overall experience for a shopper, she said.
“It’s had a more positive impact than we knew it would,” she said.
She also said the labor-intensity of doing beer pours well means that chain stores may not find the same results. The Kentwood Horrocks has ownership ties to similar stores in Lansing and Battle Creek, both of which have similar philosophies about it.
“It’s not just an add-on at the register,” she said. “You have to throw a lot of resources at it and do it extremely well.”.
Meanwhile, the public hearing for the liquor license that would allow Busch’s to pour beer and wine for customers will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Canton Township administration building.
Hunter said Busch’s continues to look for ways to distinguish itself and also to create experiences for customers that will keep them coming back.
The beer and wine sales, he said, would create “a more relaxing experience for guests. They wouldn’t feel like they have to rush to get in and out.”