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Interview: California-Based Retailer Raley’s Ups Its Game In Beverage Alcohol

May 10, 2016

With 122 stores in northern California and Nevada and annual sales of approximately $3.5 billion, the Raley’s supermarket chain is one of the country’s leading independent grocers. The West Sacramento, California-based company—which will add three new stores in the Golden State over the next year—puts major focus on beverage alcohol, with selections ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 wine, distilled spirits and beer SKUs at its stores. Shanken News Daily contributing editor Terri Allan recently spoke with Curtis Mann, director, wine, beer and spirits at Raley’s, about the company’s growing beverage alcohol business.

SND: What are the factors behind Raley’s expanded beverage alcohol sales?

Mann: There are several things, but most important has probably been our diversification into small, eclectic products—including some very interesting wines, beers and spirits. We taste everything before we put it on our shelves. To me, taste is more important than labels. We’ve also put together a customer education program. We now have 30 wine stewards, and their efforts are helping more of our customers buy wine.

SND: With so much competition for the wine shopper in your market, what sets Raley’s apart?

Mann: In addition to our wine stewards, we’ve concentrated on diversifying our selection. Instead of having the same items with a different label, we’ve expanded the selection and brought in products that offer a unique position.

SND: What trends are you seeing in the wine category?

Mann: We’re seeing a dramatic increase in French wine sales, with growth even in northern California, driven by our younger customers. Wines from the southern Rhone, Burgundy and Alsace are all doing quite well. We’re even building a Bordeaux selection, which is something we haven’t had in the past. And we’re in the process of building a private-label program.

SND: What are you seeing in beer?

Mann: Craft beer now represents more than half of our beer business. IPAs continue to be hot. In fact, we’re experimenting with setting some of our shelves by style, such as with IPAs. We think that may drive customers to try different IPAs.

SND: How are you merchandising distilled spirits in your stores?

Mann: A lot of customers try a craft cocktail at a bar and then want to recreate it at home. We’re setting up special displays with all the cocktail ingredients needed, including some interesting cordials and bitters, as well as fresh produce.

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