MINNESOTA SUPERMARKETS LOBBY STATE LEGISLATURE TO PERMIT WINE SALES

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota grocers want to get in line with 33 other states that allow wine sales in grocery stores.Under state law, Minnesota grocers cannot sell wine, beer or hard liquor in their stores. However, the Minnesota Grocers Association is nailing down a sponsor for state legislation to allow wine to be sold."People would be able to purchase a bottle of wine along with the breads, produce,

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota grocers want to get in line with 33 other states that allow wine sales in grocery stores.

Under state law, Minnesota grocers cannot sell wine, beer or hard liquor in their stores. However, the Minnesota Grocers Association is nailing down a sponsor for state legislation to allow wine to be sold.

"People would be able to purchase a bottle of wine along with the breads, produce, deli products and other food they need. For consumers in a hurry, it would save stops -- and time," according to winewithdinner.net, an MGA Web site promoting the cause. Since wine is a beverage consumed with food, is it appropriate for a food store, said Nancy Christensen, executive director of the MGA.

The MGA began working toward legislation after it conducted market research last spring and found that a majority of shoppers across the state supported the initiative. The strongest support came from the seven-county Twin Cities area, where wine sales would be limited if approved.

In Twin City stores, point-of-purchase materials explaining the initiative and thousands of cards professing consumer support have been sent to the MGA office. "They will be a consumer base for us as legislation is introduced," Christensen said.

The association is assuring legislators, if a resolution is approved, that supermarkets will encourage responsible drinking. Minnesota grocers support a zero-tolerance policy on underage sales and have adopted a Grocer Code of Conduct, which includes higher standards than the current state law.

The code requires grocers to post age restrictions, request driver's licenses of everyone under 30, guarantee all employees who sell wine are at least 18, require employee training before wine is sold, welcome law enforcement and enforce strict consequences.

As part of the code, grocers must outline disciplinary actions they will take if an employee is caught selling wine to an underage person. Employee training includes teaching workers how to recognize fraudulent identification, refusing sales to intoxicated people, and understanding local and state laws pertaining to the sale of wine.

The state Legislature is in session from January through May, and Christensen does not expect a bill to be heard until late February at the earliest.

Among the reasons the Legislature should approve the initiative, according to MGA, is that grocers are responsible and respected. "Minnesotans can already purchase 3.2 [percent alcohol] beer in grocery stores. If given the authority to also offer wine in grocery stores, Minnesota grocers are committed to enforcing a 'zero tolerance' policy with respect to underage access," according to MGA.

"Grocers are respected members of their communities and value the trust they have with their customers. They will make sure that wine in grocery stores is managed responsibly and will do everything to preserve the trust of customers," MGA's Web site says.

Despite the benefits of grocers selling wine, municipalities and liquor stores are opposed to the idea. "For many communities, this a source of income and a way to tax consumers," Christensen said. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association are already lobbying against the probable bill, and have convinced some city councils to pass resolutions rejecting the initiative.

The groups are opposing the idea because of their perception that they would lose sales, according to Christensen, but she doesn't agree. "We're only asking for wine sales. I do not think it's going to make a significant difference in their operation," she said.