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home : most recent : retail - food October 24, 2017

9/12/2017 4:48:00 PM
Push being made to expand Hoosier cold beer sales

Scott L. Miley, Tribune-Star CNHI Statehouse Bureau

Indiana’s convenience stores can currently sell warm beer if they have a state license. They can’t sell cold beer. That means consumers can buy frosty ones only at package liquor stores.

“We want to take the product that we currently sell warm and sell that product cold,” said Matt Norris, representing the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

Convenience store representatives and owners made their pitch Monday to a twoyear legislative commission studying revision of the state’s alcohol laws.

Monday, the committee looked at carryout sales of cold beer and Sunday carryout sales of alcohol. Only restaurants and wineries can currently sell on Sundays; grocery stores and convenience stores cannot.

Norris said that to obtain legislation allowing carryout sales of cold beer in convenience stores, his association would support raising the age of a store clerk selling alcohol from 19 to 21. Currently a 21-year-old staffer must be working with an underage clerk.

The association would also be willing to have state licensing and training of clerks and require mandatory carding of alcohol-buying consumers.

Indiana is the only state that regulates sales by temperatures; warm beer must be at room temperature. Some states require convenience store sales only of beer with a 3.2 percent alcohol content or lower, or sales in a room separate from the store’s food area.

Owners emphasized the changing nature of convenience stores in meeting consumer demand. Most say their top sales items are fuel and tobacco products.

“Those are on the decline. We have people that are smoking less and we have people that are changing the type of fuel that they use. Those are big factors that weigh on our business as we look down the road,” said Jay Ricker, co-owner of the Anderson-based Ricker’s Convenience Stores, which has 56 stores.

“I feel like the state is picking and choosing winners and losers in businesses. ... I don’t think the market should be set by edict. I think it should be set by our consumers on what we can sell,” Ricker told the panel.

Indiana’s laws are confusing to out-of-state visitors, said David Kenny of Super Test Oil, based in Lafayette. The firm owns a convenience store near the Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello.

“This tourist destination brings a lot of out-of-state people to the area. They’re confused and frustrated when they come in and just want to buy cold beer and we tell them they can’t,” Kenny said. “The retail landscape has changed and competition from other channels of retail has made running a profitable business much harder.”

Package liquor store owners have been generally opposed to expanding carryout sales, saying it could take customers away.

Keeping the current package liquor store system helps keep mom-and-pop operations in place, said Lisa Erickson, a former alcohol and substance abuse counselor.

“It’s exceptionally important that this system be maintained and strengthened,” she said. “It keeps profits in your state. Large national chains would like to sell all forms of alcohol in very lightly regulated environment ... to sell more cheaply, and that can undercut your package stores.”

Convenience of alcohol, however, could increase binge drinking for those who have an average of seven drinks at a time, said Lisa Hutcherson of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.

“I would argue that alcohol is already copiously convenient, literally available on almost every corner in every community of our state nearly 24 hours a day,” said Hutcherson.

The next meeting of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission is set for Sept. 22.

Related Stories:
• EDITORIAL: Indiana's liquor lobby well represented
• COMMENTARY: A history of Sunday and what it has to do with beer
• Industry contributed to all legislators reviewing Hoosier liquor laws
• Alcohol permit quota hurts competition, lawyer argues before state code commission

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