Modernizing alcohol regulations has been a top priority in North and South Carolina, according to Lindsey Kueffner, executive director of the Carolinas Food Industry Council.
In North Carolina, the CFIC has been working to limit wine wholesalers’ split case fees. The charges ultimately limit retailers’ ability to provide deals to the customers and have been a sudden challenge for retailers in the state.
“These fees raise the costs for retailers and consumers alike and, ultimately, it means less product selection, less variety on the shelves for consumers to purchase,” she explained.
Independents feel it more than anybody else.
“If you only need to purchase maybe six bottles of the same wine to try it out in your store, you’ve got to pay this extra cost. It’s not worth it,” said Kueffner, adding that the fees were not common a year ago. “It was just this year in January when some of them started imposing a fee.”
Likewise in South Carolina, the organization is advocating for alcohol delivery and pickup availability. The liberties retailers were given to provide beer and wine during the COVID-19 pandemic were rescinded quickly after the state reopened.
“We made some progress this year. And we will continue that … this remains a stubborn issue. And it’s just one example of how the [state] congress has not kept up with the times,” Kueffner said.
The Palmetto State’s legislature reconvenes in January.
Retailers in both states are holding out hope for more support from their respective governments to provide harsher penalties for organized retail crime rings.
“According to a new survey from the National Retail Federation…85 percent of retailers report that shoplifters are more aggressive and violent than they were a year ago,” Kueffner said. “These are not victimless crimes. When items are resold when stolen, they can pose a risk for the unsuspecting customer.”
Kueffner gave an example of a customer buying baby formula secondhand from an online or social media marketplace. “You have no idea if that product has been stored safely, if it’s been altered or cut with some sort of filler or even if the expiration date is valid.”
However, the outlook is improving.
“The feedback that we’re hearing from our law enforcement partners at the state, federal, local level is that the strong laws that we have at the state and federal level are making a difference. … We need to continue to advocate for strengthening laws regarding organized retail crime in both states,” she said.
Kueffner also explained how rising inflation and the end of a surplus in federally-funded SNAP/EBT funds have led to less spending and an increase in promotions in both states.
“A lot of folks are thinking twice about what they’re buying, even people who are not used to that,” she said. “That means they’re thinking whether or not they’ll use the product or if it’ll go to waste.
“I think that’s the change that you see retailers are making promoting items … there are definitely deals out there. Retailers are eager to help customers meet their budgets.”
The supply chain is getting a bit of a “helping hand” in both states as well. South Carolina is in the midst of a five-year plan to improve roads because it had become “such an issue” for the business community.
Likewise, North Carolina is continuing to improve parts of Interstate 95 that connect the Carolinas to the rest of the East Coast. However, there has been talk of a potential toll on the road.
“We had major issues with that. Being that it is such a major thoroughfare for retail and what that would do for costs to the retailers,” she said. “Again, trying to make sure that retailers are able to keep costs, prices as low as possible for their consumers. Anything like that raises the cost is not a good thing.”
In association news, the CFIC is preparing for its annual golf tournament on Nov. 7 at the legendary Pinehurst Resort, home of the 2024 U.S. Open. Prize announcements for the sold-out event are soon to follow on the organization’s social media.
Read more association news from The Shelby Report.