During this turbulent economic meltdown, there are days when I wonder if this Republic that we live in was a bad idea after all. Then, something happens like the recent death of a proposal made by New York State’s governor in his budget, and I become convinced that it was a bad idea.
According to Crane’s New York Business, the proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores in New York is reportedly dead. The reporter claims that it was the state’s liquor lobby that effectively killed the proposed bill, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.
New York State law forbids alcohol purveyors from paying for shelf space in grocery stores—it’s called ‘slotting’ and it’s how the soft drink industry gets prime real estate in front of the store.
Under the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) system in New York, slotting is considered a form of bribery and so alcohol purveyors are forbidden that marketing route (it’s difficult for me to understand why bribery is allowed in the food or any business other than alcohol, but that would be quibbling with legislators and their skewed sense of morality).
In any case, since beer is allowed in grocery stores, and beer is an alcohol product that comes under the watchful ABC eye, beer producers and distributors are not allowed the bribing privileges that soft drinks enjoy.
Why did you think beer is generally given the real estate in the back of the store?
Now, suppose wine was to be allowed in grocery stores. Where do you think wine would be shelved?
The grocers certainly aren’t going to give up prime and bribable real estate to alcohol, so if wine were sold in grocery stores in New York State, beer would likely have to give up some space to its rival product.
The beer lobby is powerful in New York—just the fact that beer is in grocery stores and wine is not might give you a clue as to how powerful. I suspect the combination of the liquor retailers and the beer lobby is what did in the proposal, with more emphasis from the latter.
Sadly, a few New York wineries went out on a limb to support the wine in grocery store concept. After voicing their support, these wineries received threats from liquor retailers and distributors that they would pay a price for their position in the matter. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that this is no idle threat.
Many years ago, as sales manager for a Finger Lakes winery, while on a visit with the sales manager of our distribution company, the owner of the distributorship directed me out of the building and then canceled our contract with his company because one of his moles in the government offices in Albany had leaked a letter that my boss wrote in favor of wine in grocery stores. (In a turn of justice, that distributor is out of business–it fell victim to the industry’s overall vicious tactics, when a larger company came into the New York turf and made a play for the whole field.)
Therefore, I worry over the fate of the few small wineries that are likely going to be blacklisted for taking a position, if not forever, at least for a while. But I worry even more about someone else.
Lost in the affairs of state budgets and lobbyists is that lowly, faceless, beaten into near servitude person known as ‘the consumer.’
I doubt that most New York legislators measured the desires of their consumer constituents. I doubt most New York legislators are aware that their constituents are consumers and not lobbyists. Further, I doubt that most New York legislators have a clue about the virtues or pitfalls inherent in many proposals that come to them, either by the governor or by their colleagues—they are too busy figuring out which group deserves payback, plus or minus!
Of all the adjectives one can apply to this large and beautiful state of New York, the ones that do not come easily to mind are: progressive, fair, and consumer or business friendly. This is among the most awkwardly backward modern states in the union, with a state government that reeks with quiet corruption.
When it comes to wine, general alcohol policy in New York State says little about our collective intelligence, but it speaks volumes about the symbiosis of money and governance.
If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.
Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2009. All rights reserved.