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Florida’s Independent Retailers Brace For A Walmart Push To Sell Spirits

January 21, 2014

Florida’s independent spirits retailers are gearing up for a legislative fight against Walmart, which is said to be planning a new effort to relax retail restrictions on spirits sales in the Sunshine state.

Currently, Florida’s licensed spirits retailers can only sell beverage alcohol, other goods associated with entertaining (such as mixers) and tobacco. Retailers who sell spirits must also be separate from any non-beverage alcohol store, with no doors opening to other buildings or rooms other than private offices and storage. (Beer and wine don’t fall under those restrictions and can be sold in larger retail stores.)

According to a memo from the Florida Independent Spirits Association (FISA) sent to independent retailers, Walmart is pushing for legislation that would eliminate the current restrictions and allow sales in grocery stores. In addition to Walmart, major retailers like Publix, Winn Dixie, Sam’s, BJ’s and 7-Eleven also stand to benefit from this change.

A bill has yet to be filed in the Florida legislature, with the deadline set for the first day of the regular session on March 4. Rory Eggers, president of newly formed FISA and COO of retailer Foremost Liquors & Wines, told SND that state Rep. Jose Oliva had planned to file the bill in the House, but has since had a change of heart. State Senator Bill Galvano, who sits on the Regulated Industries Committee, is expected to file it in the Senate.

“We’re positioning ourselves so that if it does move forward, we’re able to fight it,” says Eggers. In the memo, FISA expressed confidence that the Florida legislature will view this as a public safety issue and rule on their side.

In supporting his argument, Eggers cited Washington state, where the 2012 privatization of spirits sales has ushered major retailers into the game. Since then, some Washington retailers have reported increased theft of spirits by minors, spawning a new effort to require stores to report theft numbers to police or list them online. “The public safety issue is our biggest concern—minors getting their hands on alcohol,” says Eggers, explaining that Florida’s current retail model makes it easier to monitor minors.

FISA has 160 members and expects to bolster its numbers as the spring session approaches. Florida’s distributors have remained neutral on the issue, as they do business with all the parties involved. Walmart declined to comment.

In 2012, Walmart revealed to alcohol suppliers and distributors its goal of doubling its overall beverage alcohol business by 2016, noting significant opportunity for growth in the sector. About 1,200 Walmart stores in the U.S. currently sell spirits and it’s been reported that Walmart already controls about 30% of total U.S. grocery channel sales.

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