by Phil Yacuboski
Pennsylvania is out with its annual report of liquor sales across the state and finished 2016-2017 with record sales that total more than $2.5 billion, a nearly four percent increase over the previous report.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulates alcohol at more than 600 wine and spirits stores statewide and licenses 20,000 alcohol producers, retailers and handlers.
While many argue changes to the state’s liquor laws have been slow, the state recently eliminated the requirements that malt beverages as well as beer — must be sold in minimum package sizes such as six-packs and cases. Thanks to Act 39, distributors can sell mixed sizes, single bottles and refillable growlers.
Many are still arguing for the privatization of system.
“One of the biggest issues our members struggle with is when a restaurant places an order for their beer, the distributor sends a truck to the restaurant and they stock it. When they need wine or spirits, they have to get in their car, drive to the state store, pick up their order and take it to their car and then back to their business,” said Melissa Bova, vice-president of governmental affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. “And they are getting products that are not even priced to be competitive.”
Bova said they support getting the state out of the liquor business — both retail and wholesale.
“We want to be able to purchase wine and spirits like we do everything else,” she said. “We buy our food from the companies who have the best prices. We have to buy our liquor at a price the LCB dictates and their sales are going up and they are charging us more. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Pennsylvania House Speaker Rep. Mike Turzai, (R-28), last year introduced a series of bills aimed at privatizing the state’s liquor business, but so far it’s gained little traction.
Some democrats argue privatization would raise prices and lower selection.
Bova said in many cases, those costs are passed on directly to their customers.
“The state currently has five markups on the products that we buy from the state store,” she said. “So there’s five other prices before we have to buy it and that applies to everybody.
Attorney Ted Zeller, an attorney who represents Brewers of Pennsylvania, said creating a better distribution channel for beer is always something that is on the table.
“One of the things that we have advocated for is a study on how the new acts have impacted sales, not only at the state stores, but at grocery stores and how that has affected shelf space because now you can sell wine at a grocery store,” he said. “Did that really displace beer at those grocery stores and has it impacted sales?”
Zeller said there’s a grant proposal in discussion to study those very issues.
“Pennsylvania has maybe the most complicated liquor laws in the entire United States,” said Zeller. “There is not one state in the United States that has the volume of regulations, laws and differing opinions like Pennsylvania.”
“We’re hoping to continue to make changes to chip away at the system,” said Bova.
The report also outlined some of the state’s biggest sellers: Barefoot, Sutter Home, Jacquin’s, Captain Morgan and Smirnoff are the top five at state stores.