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Grocery store wine sales spark Farragut controversy

Debate over whether grocery and convenience stores should be allowed to sell wine in Tennessee is leading to controversy in Farragut.

“It’s all about consumer choice, and this is a consumer-driven campaign,” Jarron Springer, Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association spokesman, said of the “Red White and Food” campaign.

Springer touted convenience for consumers as the motivating reason for the campaign.

“Yeah, it’s a convenience factor, I agree with that, but at what risk and what exposure to the economy?” David Purvis, owner of Farragut Wine and Spirits, said.

The bill, currently in state legislature, provides for a new wine-only license, to be used in “retail food stores,” which includes grocery and convenience stores, but only in counties that currently allow liquor


According to Springer, a fiscal note last year said the state would gain $17 million in recurring revenue if the bill passed. Purvis said that number was an accurate projection only if Tennessee doubled its number of alcohol drinkers as well as the amount of alcohol they consume.

Springer disagreed, saying some consumers choose not to buy wine because they don’t want to make another stop. If grocery stores selling wine equals convenience, new wine shoppers would emerge.

“There are only so many drinkers in Knox County, and the fact you add another place to sell the product is not going to increase the demand for the product,” Sam Taylor Jr., owner of Dixie Lee Liquors, said.

Springer said, although grocery and liquor stores will be competing for some product, liquor stores would still offer what grocery stores can’t.

“There’s going to be a big difference … [liquor stores] do a wonderful job with service and providing for their customers,” Springer said.

“We’re not going to carry near the selection that they will carry, we’re not going to have near the expertise that they’re going to have. We’re offering convenience,” he added.

Purvis agreed with the assessment of expertise.

“From what we’ve seen in other states, [grocery stores] aren’t going to hire more staff to service that [wine] department,” he said.

“They’re going to cram in another product line … and just sell it, like you do with every other grocery,” he added.

Taylor said grocery store employees could not be counted on to keep wine out of the hands of minors.

“Most of the people who are guilty of selling to underage kids are the people in convenient marts and [grocery stores], not liquor stores,” Taylor said.

“You don’t have high school students working in liquor stores, and you do in these [grocery stores]. Are you telling me that if one of their buddies comes through the line and they’re busy, you think they won’t ring up one of their buddies?” Taylor asked.

Purvis said an average of 60 percent of liquor stores’ sales were in wine, and losing any percentage of that would affect revenues.

“It will drastically change the dynamics of our industry and the employment of people who work for us,” he said.

Springer said, as a measure of compensation to liquor stores, the bill would allow them to sell accessories they are not currently allowed to retail, such as corkscrews, mixers, ice and sodas.

“Boy, that’s a big trade-off isn’t it? We get our wine business taken away, and we’re able to sell corkscrews! The government is always looking out for the little guy,” Taylor said.

In addition, prices for distributing wine would increase as distributors had to cover increased territory.

“When the distributors have to start delivering to all these stores, they’re going to have to double, probably, their fleet [and] … their people to run this fleet,” Taylor said.

“You can’t add all these customers to your business and not have to add equipment and people,” he added.

“And they have a monopoly on the products they sale,” he added.

Local grocery store owners, however, support the Red White and Food campaign.

“I think it would be great. I think we as Food City, we want to put [wine] in the stores,” Food City general manager Debra Dungan said.

“For the Fresh Market as a whole, wine sales is a big part of their total store business in every state except Tennessee,” Fresh Market general manager John Dudek said.

“From a business standpoint, the dollars we lose from not being able to sell it is a lot,” he added.

Ingles spokesman Ron Freeman also supported the idea, saying Ingles sells wine in its stores wherever the law allows.

“We would like to be able to sell wine in our Tennessee stores, because we do in the large, large, large majority of everywhere we do business,” he said.

Currently, thirty-three states allow wine sales in grocery stores. No state has passed a similar bill allowing wine sales in food retail stores in 22 years. State Senator Bill Ketron and State Representative David Shepard are sponsoring the bill.


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