Tennessee grocers are finding success in the sale of wine-based ready-to-drink cocktails, according to Rob Ikard, president and CEO, Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association (TGCSA).
The amendment to the original Wine Act of 2014 went into effect Jan. 1. Although TGCSA had proposed legislation that would have authorized the sale of both wine- and spirits-based RTD cocktails, the state legislature only approved wine-based cocktails.
This came just a year after the TGCSA lamented the loss of case wine discounts in grocery stores. It was the first time the Wine Act had been changed in any way since its passing – setting a hopeful precedent, according to Ikard.
“Our big mixed bag of success and coming up short of success was the RTD issue,” Ikard said, adding that state liquor store and liquor wholesaler lobbyists opposed the legislation. “…They actually brought legislation of their own that expressly prohibits food stores from selling spirit-based cocktails.”
Ikard said while the TGCSA did not succeed in getting spirits-based cocktails into stores, “our members are now able to sell wine-based RTD cocktails. And those are actually proving to be a very popular category.”
The bill went into effect April 25. Ikard said both retailers and consumers are happy with the change.
“I’ve heard from quite a few members saying ‘these are selling great, we’re really glad to be able to sell these now…’ Tennessee consumers are enjoying seeing greater variety and choice for alcoholic beverages on stores’ shelves. No question about it,” he said.
The change came just in time for summer, as tourism and travel were expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. This, coupled with a changing beer market, makes the arrival of RTD cocktails in grocery stores all the more welcome.
Retail crime growing issue in state
Grocery retailers in Tennessee are continuing to be plagued by retail crime – particularly in the Memphis area. Emboldened by social media, criminals are exploiting retailers’ inability to respond.
“Shoplifting has always been there,” Ikard said. “Now you have people brazenly filling up baskets and just rolling them out, knowing that nobody is going to risk their lives to stop them.”
Ikard also said that the crime extends outside the store walls. Vehicle break-ins continue to be an issue – driving shoppers and employees away.
“From the state association perspective, it’s something that we definitely understand and feel, but we don’t yet really know how we can address that issue at the state level. I sense a growing frustration across the board with more brazen, in-your-face acts of crime in the retail space. And we need to find a way to address this,” Ikard said.
A local Memphis retailer wrote an open letter to the General Assembly addressing the crime wave. According to Ikard, the letter has “gotten a lot of attention.”
“The open letter was for all the politicians and policy makers in the Memphis area about the big crime issues, and it’s gotten a lot of attention. The politicians are definitely listening.”
The letter, which was provided to The Shelby Report by its author, Ashley Harris, VP of finance for Stepherson Inc., points out many struggles facing retailers, such as staff shortages, loss of revenue and the effects of retail crime.
“What is seen on the news is a fraction of what is really happening around the city,” the letter reads. “People say we have always had crime, but the reality is the crime is more brazen and violent today. Thieves walk out with baskets loaded with groceries multiple times a day, adding up to millions of dollars a year. We try to stop them, but no one’s life is worth giving up for groceries.”
Harris’ letter and Ikard both addressed the growing rate of viral shoplifting videos.
“Take your social media platform of choice, Facebook, TikTok, Threads now. We’re seeing it’s well known that nobody’s stopping anybody. People are just more and more bold and don’t feel any consequences at all,” Ikard said.
The letter continues focusing on Harris’ employees and customers as they’ve endured multiple vehicle break-ins, increased prices due to stolen merchandise and an increased workload due to a diminished workforce.
Ikard said he hopes some relief can be provided, but he understands many obstacles need to be overcome before that happens.
“An appeal like this, it’s gotten a lot of attention of policy makers and conversations are being had. From an association perspective, we’re just standing by to figure out how to be helpful…It’s such a big issue. I don’t know how we fix it,” Ikard said.
Read more association news from The Shelby Report.