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Wine in Supermarkets -pro vs. con

Massachusetts voters are going to decide whether on not to allow wine sales in supermarkets. I have no strong feelings one way or the other, but I wonder if it makes fine wine less available because it eats into the profits of "mom and pop" liquor stores? I'd love to hear some opinions.

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  1. What do you mean it makes fine wine less available? It would seem to make fine wine more available.

    1. Actually, it will probably have no effect on "fine wine" but it will hurt the bread and butter of most wine shops, the low to mid range walk in buy. Supermarkets are not going to be the place to go get fine wine or small production wine. Unless you are talking about a place like Costco, supermarkets are going to try to turn over the stock quickly and will be selling wine in the "easily affordable" range. Sure there will be a few that will have some "fine wines" but for the most part, you are still going to have to go to a good wine shop to find the great wines.

      3 Replies
      1. re: dinwiddie

        Here in the SF Bay Area, some supermarkets (Andronico's and larger Safeways) have better selections than many wine shops, sometimes with a locked cabinet of rare and older bottles.

        Costco's wine selection is by comparison quite limited.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Of course in SF wine is a different thing. However, Costco is the largest retailer of wine in the country and in places like Virginia they are one of the better, and better priced, fine wine markets. Personally I think that a good wine shop is always a better place to go, but I have to give Costco its due, they actually take wine seriously, unlike many of the supermarkets in areas that are not in the SF area (where wine is a holy item.)

          1. re: dinwiddie

            Costco's wine selection's not the same everywhere. I read an interview with their buyer that mentioned some good-sounding inexpensive French wines that never showed up here.

      2. In Arizona, wine in supermarkets has been the norm as long as I can remember. The small number of independent wine stores that do exist are usually specialized, high-end stores that offer a selection that is both more varied and more esoteric than what is available at supermarkets. The independent wine stores also try to distinguish themselves with knowledgable personnel, case discounts, and in-store events.

        My guess is that if Massachusetts make this change, it may affect some mediocre liquor stores that benefit from being the only available source of wine. Those that are truly devoted to wine and that treat their customers well will probably maintain a niche for themselves.

        2 Replies
        1. re: silverbear

          Posting from Oregon, completely agree with silverbear. The supermarkets here actually have a pretty good selection, esp at the locally owned markets, with good pricing and an additional 10% off for 6 bottles or more. At the local Ray's, Kiona Lemberger is $10.79, or $9.71 if buying a 6 bottle mixed pack. This is an excellent wine that many have not even heard of, and it's $12 at the winery.

          1. re: silverbear

            Exactly. Which is why crummy stores like Sav-Mor liquors on McGrath highway are urging customers to Vote NO. But places with a great variety and good service like Kappy's in Medford aren't too worried. Speaking for myself, I'd be happy to be able to pick up a bottle of plonk at the supermarket but I'll still go visit Mark, my wine guy, at Kappy's for rec's.

          2. It is a pure win for the consumer. It will provide: (1) convenience; (2) lower prices, especially at the lower end of the market ($7-$12 wines); and most importantly (3) pressure on distributors.

            Fine wine purveyors will continue to just fine by focusing on carefully selected offerings that most supermarket chains won't carry, and by offering knowledgable service.

            Living in CA as I do, I can say that the three tier system is an antiquated and anticompetitve relic that deserves to be made voluntary rather than mandatory throughout the country. Jeez, how long ago was prohibition lifted?

            1. As noted about, in N. CA many of the groceries have excellent wine selections. The new Safeway in Alameda has Stag's Leap, Silver Oak and any number of other outstanding CA wines. There is one wine and cheese shop in Alameda that offers as good or better choices of wine, other than that the Safeway is probably the best in town.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rtmonty

                I agree. In the foothills I've seen some great buys on wines in the local grocery stores, sometimes a buck cheaper than at the foothill wineries. My go to place for good wine deals is Longs Drugs. It's hit or miss because I think others have found the good deals there too.

              2. Posting from St. Pete/Tampa/Clearwater market.

                I think that the added exposure to wine generated by grocery stores can only be a good thing for the market. Many consumers don't or won't go into a wine store. They may be intimidated or just don't have the time. As they become more interested/savvy, they gravitate to stores that can provide more advice, information and better selections of finer wines.
                Also, I don't think that grocery stores volume necessarily translates in to lower prices. In this market, grocery store prices can actually drive the consumer to the independents and regional chains. From what I've seen on selections that are available in both, the grocery stores are always several $$ higher. (Sin Zin Publix $18.00, Wine Warehouse $15. - Coppola Merlot Publix $10. Wine Warehouse $7.)
                Independents and regional chains that do their homework should thrive.

                1. I have lived both in TX and Boston. Everyone's comments here about going to a wine shop don't mesh with the current situation in MA. There are very few supermarkets that sell wine/beer here. We have liquor stores that sell most of the beer/wine. Some cities allow the sale of beer and wine but the supermarkets are only given three licenses for the entire state (I believe).

                  The liquor stores we have here are mostly locally owned. The 'chains' we have are Blanchards and Cappys which have a handful of stores. Best Cellars is a great wine store.

                  Personally, I believe selling wine in supermarkets will lead to the Walmart-ization of MA. We still have corner stores where you can talk to the owner behind the register. Most local wine shops have wine tastings on the weekend. You can taste the wines and discuss your likes/dislikes with the employees. I have discovered more favorites this way. I cannot imagine the bagger at Stop and Shop will be much help.

                  Another concern of mine with the law, and I admit I really haven't read too much into it, is the gas stations. Are the little stores at gas stations considered 'markets'? Will there be beer and wine at the gas stations? That part bothers me.

                  There was an article in the Globe recently showing that the prices of wines in supermarkets vs. liquor stores really is not much different. I know Gary's in West Roxbury is always the cheapest place for most brands -- even cheaper than Trader Joe's in some cases. I can't imagine the prices being much lower.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: cvb

                    Why would you care if beer or wine is sold at gas stations?

                    1. re: cvb

                      Well, of course there are very few supermarkets that sell wine here in MA - that's the whole point of the ballot question. I would estimate I buy something upwards of 50 cases of wine a year in MA, and there are currently two types of liquor stores in MA from a wine-buyers perspective - those that are serious about wine and those that aren't. The former will not be impacted by markets carrying wine and the latter I don't care about.

                      For those who aren't in this TV market, the big-money powers that have a lock on liquor distribution in this state are saturating the airwaves with scare tactics and contrived statistics that supposedly "prove" that there's a correlation between the number of places you can buy wine and the number of traffic accidents/fatalities. Therefore, we shouldn't increase the number of wine sellers. Fine, if they really believe that then maybe we should look at DECREASING the number of liquor stores. Well, no that's not exactly what they want either. What they want is the status quo that allows them to pick our pockets every day. And don't even get me started on their prevention of shipments from out-of-state wineries, even tiny boutique wineries that aren't sold in MA anyway.

                      Competition is good, more competition is better.

                      1. re: FlyFish

                        You are so right. I live in MA, too. As a matter of fact, I live in one of those cities where there are no liquor stores. Private clubs and restaurants can sell liqior- but no liquor stores, or "stand alone" bars allowed. It is crazy- there is a small convenience store that I stop in on my way home from work sometimes( not in my town)- and I think they sell wine there. I know they sell beer.

                        1. re: macca

                          But your town still will not allow sale of wine after this law passes, isn't that correct? I work in a dry town and this law will do nothing to change the town ordinances. (I work in Needham and we have Trader Joe's. I mentioned to a resident of Needham how great it would be if this law were passed and TJs could sell wine. She pointed out that Needham would have to then change their law, and we didn't see that happening.)

                          I guess for me, my local wine store is great and no matter what I will still go there. The supermarkets are a horrorshow.

                          As far as wine in gas stations, I don't know why this bothers me. I obviously had never experienced it until I moved to TX. In MA, at the gas station there is a cooler full of single Cokes next to the register. In TX, they had a cooler full of beer. You would see the drivers, buy one beer (not a six pack) and walk back to their car. I know its pretty hard to get drunk from one beer but there is just so much wrong with that. I know, I know, this is not the norm but its the image in my head. I saw it happen repeatedly, not just once.

                          I do *not* believe selling wine in super markets will increase drunk driving or underage drinking. I think that whole campaign is ridiculous.

                          As far as competition, yes, it is good to a point but have you been to other part of the country where the ONLY store in town is Super Walmart. They squeeze out the competition. How many locally owned places are left?

                          [I just reread my post and I sound like such a whiner... I swear I am an openminded person... jeesh, I really haven't even decided how I am going to vote. I hate the ballot questions they never seem to fully explain an issue and then both sides start running dumb commercials using scare tactics.]

                          1. re: cvb

                            I just reread my post, and I sound overly confrontational. That wasn't my intention, and I suspect we're a lot closer on this issue than it may have appeared. Frankly, I'm more honked off about my inability to import wine directly from some of my favorite little wineries out in Oregon (though many find ways of shipping into MA regardless).

                            1. re: cvb

                              Nope- No wine will be sold in grocery stores even if the law passes ( I live in Melrose, BTW). Like Needham, Melrose would have to change the city laws. And I don't think that is likely to happen. So to me, it makes no difference as to the convenience of purchasing wine. I have to leave the city to get beer wine or spirits.

                              1. re: cvb

                                I think you needn't worry. I'm posting from SC, where beer and wine have been sold at grocery stores and gas stations as long as I can remember. The Arbor Mist and Mad Dog (no, I'm not kidding) get sold at the gas stations. Yellow Tail and the like get sold at the grocery store and and at Super Walmart. None of these facts have closed down the independents. We have plenty of wine stores.

                                Now Whole Foods...that's a different story. They have a wide selection of wines I don't see in other stores, decent prices, and tastings almost any day you go in. Add to that a friendly, interested staff with less pretentious attitudes than my previously-favored wine store...and you have me spending most of my wine dollars there.

                        2. Here is the Globe article about pricing...

                          "Large package stores often beat the supermarket prices by anywhere from $1 to $5 a bottle. Smaller package stores were far less competitive, but still managed to match the prices of nearby supermarkets on some products."

                          1. I moved from MA (Cambridge) to CA (West L.A.) about a year ago. Here in L.A., wine is available nearly everywhere (from 7-11 to liquor stores).

                            My experience with L.A. wine/liquor stores is that the selection is far more extensive here than at the best liquor stores in Boston (Wine House and Wally's are far better than Wine and Cheese Cask or Blanchard's or Liquor World - although I miss the 'distilled in Somerville' Vodka), and the knowledge base is very high.

                            If nothing else, allowing supermarkets to sell wine will 'grow' the market for the product in MA, hopefully both lowering prices (which are high relative to CA) and raising selection.

                            This would seem to be an unmitigated boon from a wine-drinker's perspective.

                            1. I'm all for it. I live in Boston and shop at the Stop and Shop in Quincy which carries wine. It has a very wide selection and excellent prices. Comparable to or better than the markets I've visited in CA and other states, and certainly much better than the packies in my neighborhood.

                              When I want nice wine, my go-to place is Silene in Waltham or Bauer which is close to work. I can't imagine they'll be affected at all, nor will Blanchards and Martignetti's. And though I do feel for the mom and pop packies, I think more competition will bring more interesting wine and better prices tothe consumer.

                              1. When I lived in Massachusetts lo these many years ago, the local liquor stores were big on liquor and cases of beer, not so much on wine. The one I used to buy my liquor in kept its wine still in the cases on top of the radiators near the front windows, which in winter meant a nice palatable 80 degrees or so. Mmm. Most of what little wine they actually sold came in two-gallon jugs.

                                Real wine was something you bought from a wine shop. I can't imagine either type of shop will be hurt much by supermarket sales, and the consumer is going to win big time.

                                1. Thomas Jefferson said..."No nation is drunken where wine is cheap,
                                  and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes
                                  ardent spirits as the common beverage.
                                  Wine brightens the life and thinking of anyone."
                                  Thomas Jefferson, 1800s

                                  1. I love being able to buy wine here in FL in the grocery stores; however, when I want something special for a host/hostess gift or a thank you, I will often stop at a nice wine shop here that sells wines that are not mass-market label, the staff is helpful and not snooty. I found Mark West Pinot Noir at this shop about 2 years ago and believe me, I do love it, though I gave it as a gift first time around; then I went back and it was all gone! Doh! And, it goes for around $10 at this shop, a very good buy I would say. Sometimes I go to that wine shop just to see "what's good" and try to discover some new wines for myself, though my budget is severely restricted.

                                    1. I live over the Massachusetts line in New Hampshire. We have the same grocery store chains and they all carry beer & wine. Very few carry anything in their wine sections that I would consider buying. The affluent parts of New Hampshire have lots of mom & pop specialty wine shops even though we also have huge New Hampshire State Liquor Stores that have an extensive wine selection and reasonable prices. In yuppie havens in Boston/Cambridge and the affluent suburbs, it won't put the wine shops out of business since they're selling based on service, not so much on price. In a Chickopee, New Bedford (I'm a native), or Brockton where wine is consumed out of paper bags and the Bud 30 pack is the big seller, there will be an awful lot of liquor store closings since they can't possibly match prices with the high volume grocery stores. You can only sell so many lottery tickets to stay alive.

                                      1. I'm in L.A., where we swim in wine. Frankly your ballot measure is a little bizarre to me. As posted above, here you can buy wine everywhere. Specialty wine shops vs. supermarkets generally attract different segments of the wine-drinking population. Here, the supermarkets generally carry the wines that appeal to the masses, and usually I find that the prices are a little higher. For me, wine at the supermarket is a convenience factor, not a wine destination.
                                        If your supermarkets are going to sell a Kendall Jackson chard for $12.99 and the specialty wine store has it for $13.99, I don't think the specailty shop will be hurt. I go to wine shops for larger variety, higher end, and browsing, and if I happen to want the bottle of KJ chard while there, I'd buy it instead of trekking to the supermarket to save a dollar or two (which i would then have to spend on gas!)

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: slacker

                                          I generally agree that this is true along the entire west coast. But, what hasn't been discussed as much is the "quality" local grocery store. In Bend, OR, Newport Market is a high-end stand-alone grocery store with an excellent cheese department, a comparable wine selection and a dedicated wine buyer. Ray's, a small local chain, is a bit above the Safeway level (which, incidentally, is pretty good) and, again, has its own buyer.

                                          Massachusetts at present can't have that sort of operation, to their loss. The current system in Massachusetts is designed to "protect" the citizenry from themselves, as they are obviously not smart enough to differentiate wine selection for themselves. As an aside, in Oregon we are apparently not smart enough to pump our own gas - no self-serve allowed; isn't government wonderful?

                                          1. re: Steve K

                                            Actually, liquor licenses in Massachusetts are a very political thing. They are granted by towns and cities and you can typically only get one if you've *cough* greased the skids in some way. Massachusetts liquor laws serve to protect well-connected liquor store owners from competition. That has nothing to do with 'protecting' the citizenry from themselves. It's just one of the thousands of examples of low-grade corruption in the state.

                                            1. re: GeoffD

                                              Yeah, I was being a bit sardonic. Massachusetts differs from the rest of the country only in the degree of its corruption.

                                        2. There are lots of great wines available in grocery stores in California. It probably depends on demand. I still go to wine shops for the more unusual wines.

                                          1. In terms of the effect on fine wine and the bottom line of small stores, I used to manage a “mom and pop” wine store in VA - where supermarkets could sell wine. Our bread and butter remained the $7-15 walk-in sales for inexpensive wines for dinner. The supermarkets concentrated on selling moderately priced wines from big commercial wineries like Yellowtail, Mondavi, etc. Their concern was that they always had the same product on the shelves. There are thousands of great values from Spain, Italy, France, and new world wineries whose yearly production was small enough to not be considered by a supermarket buyer. We didn’t sell much of the big commercial wineries (and couldn’t buy enogh to get a good price to compete) but we had, and the store still does, a very deep selection of all the other wine in the world. Our business was based on regular customers, bored with the supermarket selections, who wanted to try different wines and we could always point them to something new – and our total sales grew 10-20% a year for the last 10 years. The deeper our selction of moderately priced wines, the more that our bottom line grew and the more that we sold “fine” wines. Overall, because small stores in VA don’t rely on the selling the mainstream wines and it forces them to have deep, well thought out selections – typically much better than what I see in any of the stores here now that I’ve moved to MA including Marty’s, Blanchards, Best Wines, etc.

                                            1. Supermarkets typically stock the same old cheap $2-4 bottles of wine. The fine wines won't shift as much, so they'll not be stocked.


                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: TexasToast

                                                Maybe in Texas, but not in CA, OR, and WA. Locally (Bend, OR) the Safeway's and Fred Meyer's carry a fairly wide selection of wines, with a top end of around $30. Pricing is generally about 10% below the winery's retail price, with sales often significantly below. Mixed 6-packs are 10% off the shelf price.

                                                The local "higher-end" supermarkets have more of the higher-end wines and more of the "local" OR and WA wines; price ranges from jug wines to $50 and above (some really good stuff), also at about 10% below winery retail, and also with 10% off shelf price for 6-packs.

                                                If the Massachusetts legislation doesn't pass, move. Just not here.

                                                1. re: Steve K

                                                  Now CA I knew about, and of course, the higher end supermarkets and chains (Central Market, Whole Foods, World Market), or those in a certain demographic, will carry better produce, be it wine, or whatever.


                                              2. I've lived in California and Pennsylvania. California has wines in supermarkets; Pennsylvania doesn't (you have to go to State Liquor Stores). California wins, hands down, as having everything available, from very fine wines at top end supermarkets to cheap wines at the average market. Some markets buy in bulk, some have sales, it's all over the map. Basically, I've found the bigger the distribution, the bigger the variety and ranges of cost. California also has little mom and pop boutiques that sell specialty wines. So, the more, the merrier.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: EclecticEater

                                                  California sells EVERYTHING down to the hard stuff! Now THAT'S what I'm talkin about! Texas is so screwed up, you can't even buy wine in supermarkets from CITY to CITY and to top it off, there are NO liquor stores in those cities either!


                                                2. I couldn't imagine not having multiple options for wine buying. A supermarket find at the Albertson's in the Evergreen area of San Jose last Xmas: a Penfolds Cab/Shiraz/Merlot, buy one get one free, $6.99 for one. I also work within minutes of a Cosentino's (small Italian family owned chain of groceries). My first resort is always K&L in Redwood City - they're a friendly, endless well of wine knowledge & a repository of a large number of under $10 selections. But for convenience's sake, thank goodness I can go to the grocery, or TJ's. Condolences to all those who live in areas that are severely restricted...