Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another bill to let grocery stores sell beer dies

In what is becoming an annual tradition, legislation that would have opened the door to sale of full-strength beer in grocery stores has died in the General Assembly.

HB 13-1178, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was terminated Tuesday at Priola's request after he realized there was not enough support for it to pass the House Business, Labor, Economic and Workforce Development Committee.

The committee voted unanimously to end the bill's journey through the legislative process.

The measure was opposed, as similar versions in prior years have been, by liquor stores. The state's micro-brewing industry also expressed skepticism about the bill.

Jeanne McEvoy, a spokesperson for the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said that safety is a principal reason for her organization's opposition to this and similar bills.

"You don’t put alcohol on shelves where kids can go in and grab their Red Bull and vodka and put it in a backpack and go out the door," she said. "That doesn’t happen in a liquor store."

McEvoy also noted that a study commissioned by CLBA showed that many of the state's liquor stores would go out of business if grocery and convenience stores could compete with them.

"The other thing is, the economics of losing your market to large corporations that can out-purchase you and then put you out of business pretty darn quick," she explained.

The state's craft brewing industry has been experiencing rapid growth, according to a spokesman, and does not believe that changing the current system would benefit the increasing number of small breweries in Colorado.

"We feel that the system that’s in place is an excellent system," Steve Kurowski, the marketing and public relations manager for the Colorado Brewers Guild, said. "We feel that it supplies the beer drinker, the wine drinker with a lot of options with great selection in these liquor stores and they’re very convenient. A lot of them are right next to the grocery store. To have a place that’s going to focus exclusively on beer, wine, and spirits is a good thing, especially in a state that has so many breweries, wineries, and now distilleries."

A 2012 study commissioned by CBG indicates that the industry produces a $146 million annual economic impact for the state.

"Growth is staggering," Kurowski said. "We are seeing breweries that are 10, 15-plus years old build new breweries from the ground up, expand at their breweries to add new fermentation tanks. We’re even seeing some of these breweries grow internationally. In Colorado, in the last sixteen months, it’s safe to say that we've opened around 40 breweries."

Kurowski explained that the advantage of current law is that it allows brewers to quickly form strong working relationships with those who make purchasing decisions at the state's many liquor stores.

"If you make good beer, if you’re product is in demand, you can find a place for it," he said. "What makes it easy is that a brewery can make some beer, put it in a delivery van, take it to a liquor store, and say, ‘hey, look at our Christmas beer, look at our summer brew, would you like to buy?’ The liquor store can say yes or no."

The state's major grocery chains do not station personnel with purchasing authority relating to beer in Colorado, Kurowski added. 

No bill to expand access to beer sales was introduced in last year's legislative session. During each of the four years prior to that similar proposals were considered.

Priola's bill would not have been limited to beer. It would have allowed grocery stores to obtain up to five liquor licenses, which could have in turn provided a pathway to sell wine and hard liquors in addition to full-strength beer.

The micro-brewing industry's opposition to the bill came in spite of a provision that would have allowed some of its participants to sell their product in all Colorado grocery and convenience stores.

Kurowski noted that the provision would not have benefited most of the state's craft brewers.

"There’s only a small handful of breweries that would be able to do business with the grocery stores," he said.

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