RALEIGH, N.C. — A proposal to allow price-reducing promotions on alcoholic beverages sold in North Carolina stores was rejected here earlier this month by the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
Opponents contended the proposal would encourage underage drinking.
“We're the only state that doesn't allow some sort of coupons” to promote alcoholic beverages, said Andy Ellen, lobbyist for the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, which submitted the proposal. “Opponents argued that it would increase underage drinking, but no one could prove that.”
NCRMA has been battling the rule for 15 years.
It prohibits cents-off coupons as well as coupons for free alcoholic beverages; 2-for-1 promotions; buy-one, get-one-free specials; and any other offer indicating that a patron must buy more than one drink to get a discount. In liquor stores — the only retail locations approved to sell hard liquor in the state — manufacturer rebates can be offered on liquor.
NCRMA has yet to determine its next course of action.
Ellen couldn't confirm that it will continue to lobby for discounts on alcohol, but if it wants a law change it will have to wait until the state legislature reconvenes in January. NCRMA could also submit a proposal to the NCABC again in the future.
Mary Easley, the state's first lady and national co-chairwoman of Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol-Free, opposed the measure calling it “socially irresponsible and dangerous. Research has proved that alcohol is a price-sensitive product,” she wrote in a letter to NCABC.
Easley noted that studies have shown that a slight increase in the price of alcohol reduces alcohol consumption among young people and heavy drinkers so a decrease would likely have the opposite effect.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Governor's Highway Safety Program also opposed the measure.
NCRMA's retailer members, which include Food Lion, Harris Teeter and a host of independent grocers, feel that they'd benefit from a change in the rule.
Many retailers want to be able to offer promotions on wine as part of their loyalty programs, or start wine clubs, in which shoppers who spend a certain amount on wine could get a free bottle or a coupon for discounts on their next purchase, according to Ellen.
Food Lion spokesman Jeff Lowrance acknowledged that “many of our customers would appreciate coupons and discounted prices on their beer and wine purchases.”
The North Carolina Association of Convenience Stores, Raleigh, opposed the proposal, saying it would be unfair to independent retailers.
“Smaller retailers are not equipped to handle in-store coupon redemption, discounts or loyalty cards,” said J. Edwin Turlington, an attorney for the association, in a statement. “They don't have large budgets to distribute and advertise the coupons and cards.”
Chuck Richards, owner of one-store independent Reid's Fine Foods, Charlotte, disagrees.
“As a one-store operator competing with a chain store, passage of the proposal would have put everyone on a level playing field,” said the NCRMA member. “It would have been a great opportunity for shoppers to save money. I don't see how this would've increased consumption among minors.”
Turlington said the measure could cause some smaller retailers to go out of business by “driving sales to large grocery and big-box retail stores.”