Minnesota Grocers Hope to Uncork Wine

ST. PAUL, Minn. Window clings, grocery-bag ads and in-store demonstrations are among the ways Minnesota supermarkets are supporting a revamped statewide effort to get wine sold in food stores. Knowlan's Super Markets, Kowalski's, Cub Foods and Miners, among others, are involved in the Minnesota Grocers Association's Wine with Dinner proposal to allow stores with at least 8,000 square feet of retail

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Window clings, grocery-bag ads and in-store demonstrations are among the ways Minnesota supermarkets are supporting a revamped statewide effort to get wine sold in food stores.

Knowlan's Super Markets, Kowalski's, Cub Foods and Miners, among others, are involved in the Minnesota Grocers Association's “Wine with Dinner” proposal to allow stores with at least 8,000 square feet of retail space to sell wine.

Supervalu's Cub Foods stores are using new Wine with Dinner grocery bags, according to Lee Ann Jorgenson, Cub's community relations manager. Cub began carrying the bags in its 65 Minnesota stores in the late fall and will continue distributing them through March.

Cub is also promoting “Wine with Dinner” via messaging in its Sunday newspaper inserts, and direct-mail pieces.

“Thirty-three other states can offer wine in supermarkets, so why can't we?” asked Jorgenson. “It will help us become a one-stop shop.”

The MGA, based here, is working to get the Wine with Dinner proposal approved by the state legislature. Although it has been pushing for supermarket wine sales for seven years, the effort has been refreshed with new advertising and promotional vehicles, including the grocery bags and window clings. MGA has already aligned itself with state Sen. Linda Scheid to get a bill introduced in the Senate and is working on doing the same in the House.

More than 200 supermarket locations in the state currently support Wine with Dinner, according to Jamie Pfuhl, the MGA's executive director. In doing so, they distribute window clings and literature. Several parent companies, including Kowalski's and Knowlan's, also have links to www.winewithdinner.com [3] on their home pages.

Some retailers have gone so far as to host store tours for state legislators to demonstrate how they are adequately equipped to check customer identification to prevent sales to minors.

“Grocers are very engaged,” Pfuhl said.

Vadnais Heights, Minn.-based Knowlan's has set up permanent tables in its stores to distribute literature and encourage consumers to sign up to receive email updates about Wine with Dinner. The retailer is also aggressively advertising the initiative in its newspaper ads.

“We want to make our customers aware of the situation,” said Lauri Youngquist, Knowlan's president and chief operating officer.

Youngquist stressed that the category is a natural fit for supermarkets because of how it complements cheese, meat and other foods.

“We just want to provide a convenience to our customers,” she said.

The MGA's Pfuhl said Minnesota consumers support the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin. A big reason for this is that many state residents have second homes in Florida and other areas where supermarkets are permitted to sell wine.

“People travel and go to other states where they can get wine, so they wonder why they can't get it here,” Pfuhl said.

Mary Kowalski, owner of Kowalski's Markets, agreed: “We've become a much more global society. People travel to different places and are used to getting wine in supermarkets.”

Kowalski's occasionally sets up tables in its stores to distribute information about the effort and to pair nonalcoholic wine with cheese and other complementary foods.

“We want to create an atmosphere showing how wine and food go together so well,” she said.

While the Wine with Dinner proposal is a controversial one, it has gained momentum over the last few months, thanks to the MGA's marketing efforts, Kowalski said.

“We have definitely increased the public's exposure,” she said.

The time is right for the renewed campaign because of new politician makeup in the state capital, Pfuhl said.

“We've had a tremendous turnover in the state capital, so there's great opportunity to for us to restate our cause,” she said.

Minnesota's initiative comes at a time when 33 states allow consumers to buy wine. Those that don't are facing an uphill battle due to concerns that it could put small liquor stores out of business.

But the liquor industry isn't the only obstacle. Consumers, too, have concerns. Just last year, Massachusetts voters defeated a statewide ballot question that, if approved, would have permitted wine sales in grocery stores. Some, however, attributed the vote to fears that teenagers would be more likely to obtain alcohol because convenience stores also could apply for wine licenses if the proposal were approved.

That's not an issue in Minnesota's Wine with Dinner program because it seeks wine sales only in stores of at least 8,000 square feet.

Due to state laws, Wine with Dinner can only be approved by the legislature and it cannot be put on a voter ballot, as was the case in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts and Minnesota supermarkets are not alone in pursuing wine sales. Efforts are also under way in New York, Pennsylvania and other states. Meanwhile, Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., is reportedly seeking approval for a 19,000-square-foot building that would be used to sell wine and other spirits. The proposed location is reportedly adjacent to its flagship store and Tastings restaurant.