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Monday, November 27, 2006

Minnesota: Supermarkets Want to Sell Wine

Supermarkets in Minnesota are again raising the concept that they should be able to sell chardonnay and merlot along side steaks and poultry. Liquor stores want the Minnesota State Legislature to maintain a Prohibition-era law that does not allow food and alcohol to be sold under the same roof for off-premise consumption. This debate has come up from time to time during the last three decades.

Minnesota grocers are using a recent legislative study indicating that the current rules limiting where alcohol is sold costs consumers millions of dollars. The study found that wine prices in Minnesota were 5-7 percent higher than Wisconsin, which allows grocers to sell wine, beer and liquor. Messages about the situation are being sent to consumers to try to put pressure on legislators. The supermarket lobby points out that 33 states allow food stores to sell wine.

Liquor stores have countered saying that allowing groceries to sell wine would dramatically impact their businesses. They say that wine is their most profitable product line and increased competition could threaten their businesses. It may be true, but they will likely also need to use some of the tactics that anti-grocery activists used in beating back a similar proposal earlier this month in Massachusetts. In that ballot measure, package stores were able to convince voters that allowing grocers to sell wine would increase the amount of underage drinking and cause a greater driving while intoxicate problem on the state's highways. Total spending by both sides in that race set a new record for a ballot initiative at $11 million.

It looks like the grocery effort in Minnesota will mean fat paychecks for lobbyists.

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