At grocery stores across Connecticut, you can buy beer with your food, but not wine. Those looking to cook with wine, pick up some bottles for a dinner party, or simply enjoy a glass during dinner have to make that purchase at a separate package store. But that’s not the case in most states.
At least 40 other states give consumers the option to buy both wine and beer inside grocery stores, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. Connecticut is one of a handful where wine is exclusively sold in package stores.
Carroll Hughes, executive director of the Connecticut Package Stores Association and the organization’s lobbyist at the Connecticut Capitol, said wine sales are critical to keeping package stores in business.
Grocery stores currently have 12 to 15 percent of the beer market in Connecticut, according to Hughes.
“If they were ever to sell 12 to 15 percent of the wine, there wouldn’t be package stores. Wine is the primary reason people come in,” Hughes said.
Hughes said competition from supermarkets would likely force package stores to cut costs, which could translate into possible job losses and fewer product offerings.
Limiting competition may be good for the package stores, but is it fair to consumers?
“We view wine as a food pairing, and people should be allowed to come in to the grocery store and buy wine,” said Wayne Pesce, who represents grocery stores and suppliers as president of the Connecticut Food Association.
He said grocery stores want a free and open market and a chance to grow their sales by offering convenient one-stop shopping for customers.
“We’re not looking to put anybody out of business,” Pesce said.
If grocery stores could sell wine, would people change their buying habits?
According to tax data from the Department of Revenue Services, wine consumption in Connecticut has remained mostly flat over the last five years. That could indicate people will only buy so much wine, but easier access to the product could also increase sales.
Jenny Guerraz, a West Hartford mom of two said it doesn’t make sense to her why beer and wine are treated differently by state law.
“I make the extra step, but I would prefer do it all in one stop,” Guerraz said.
Almost seven out of 10 consumers would like the option to buy wine in the supermarket, according to research commissioned by the Connecticut Food Association. Outgoing Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said popular opinion has held little sway over the legislature when it comes to liquor laws.
“The industry spends a lot of money making sure that the legislators are fearful of making those kinds of changes that would favor the consumer,” Malloy said.
Malloy pushed for liquor law reforms eight years in a row. Some proposals, like allowing alcohol sales on Sundays, passed. Others, such as eliminating Connecticut’s unique system of pricing, faced strong opposition from the Connecticut Package Stores Association.
Allowing wine sales in Connecticut grocery stores is likely to meet a similar end, Malloy said.
“I don’t think the legislature’s brave enough to stand with the citizens over the corporate interests,” Malloy said.
NBC Connecticut Investigates reached out to Governor-elect Ned Lamont to ask if he intends to continue Malloy’s push to reform liquor laws. He declined to comment.