Walmart: consumers want alcohol in stores

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Liquor wholesalers, distributors, retailers and others are debating whether they should support a push to legalize the sale of hard liquor in Oklahoma grocery and convenience stores. (Photo by Paul Abrahams on Unsplash)

Growing customer demand is fueling a push to allow liquor to be sold in Oklahoma grocery stores, according to an Oklahoma City political consultant working for Walmart.

“Our customers have told us they want more choice and convenience when buying spirits in Oklahoma, and we’re interested to see what role we could play in advocating for them on this issue,” said Pat McFerron. , partner of CMA Strategies.

Working on behalf of Walmart, McFerron is hosting a meeting this month with alcohol wholesalers, distributors, industry lobbyists and related services. He said they would discuss a potential legislative effort to change Oklahoma’s liquor law that bans the sale of whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila and other spirits in grocery stores and convenience stores. .

“Is it time to watch an alcohol rewrite?” That’s the question McFerron plans to ask alcohol lobbyists in a week or two. McFerron declined to disclose exactly when or where his meeting will take place, hoping to avoid a confrontation with Oklahoma liquor store owners.

McFerron was behind a successful campaign in 2016 to pass State Question 792, which changed state law to allow the sale of full-strength wine and beer in grocery stores and other outlets. sale to detail. The measure has faced strong opposition from liquor store owners across the state, who say the new law has devastated their industry, squeezing profits and forcing dozens of businesses to close.

There’s no timeline for the current initiative, but McFerron said the Oklahomans could be ready for it.

A lot has changed in the past six years, McFerron said. Consumer feelings are different. Medical marijuana is now legal and voters will soon decide on recreational marijuana. Perhaps the public is also interested in other changes to state liquor laws.

“The products customers want are changing, and Oklahoma laws aren’t up to date with that,” he said.

For example, ready-to-drink beverages are growing in popularity. Many of these products contain alcohol and are sold in cans as mixed drinks. Popular brands include Smirnoff Ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Jack Daniel’s Hard Cola and Vodka Cruiser.

Robert Jernigan, owner of Bacchus Wine & Spirits and president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said SQ 792 was having a devastating effect on many small Oklahoma liquor stores. Allowing grocery stores to sell spirits would further reduce what remains of their customer base, forcing many liquor stores to close.

McFerron questions the effect SQ 792 has had on liquor stores across the state, saying he doesn’t believe the measure forced Oklahoma’s liquor stores to close.

Over the past decade, published reports have indicated that the number of liquor stores in Oklahoma has hovered between 600 and 700. A 2019 media report indicates the number was 626, down from 684 in 2017. The state’s ABLE Commission did not respond to a request for an updated number Thursday.

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