More beer runs in store?

By on April 9, 2014
Weis

Jeff Turnbull eyes the IPAs at the Beer Café at Weis Market in Lititz.

Weis Markets in Lititz last month became the first supermarket in the county to sell beer. Who’ll be first in Ephrata to sell beer, bananas and beauty aids?

 

 

Chad Ressler sees beer runs to Lititz in his future.

“It’s my first trip, but I’ll be back,” the Ephrata resident beamed amid an aisle of ales and assorted IPAs at the Beer Café inside Weis Markets last week.

Weis is among a growing list of grocery and conveniences store chains that are quietly shifting the beer-buying landscape in Pennsylvania.

Ephrata stores do not currently sell six-packs and single beers but retailers say “pent-up demand” exists here and they’re coming.

And why wouldn’t they?

Weis Markets in Lititz became the first supermarket in the county to sell beer last month and it’s already expanding.

While it took years of planning, the Beer Café took off almost immediately, said Weis manager John Sullivan.

It’s increased beer selection from about 300 beers to 428, prompting Weis to broaden beer sales space by up to 30 feet, Sullivan said.

“Craft beers made up eight of the top 10 selling beers in the first weekend we were open, so we knew that was the kind of direction our customers were looking,” Sullivan said.

Weis competes with growing boutique craft beer businesses such as The Fridge and Hunger ‘n Thirst in Lancaster — along with several brew pubs like St. Boniface and Appalachian Brewing Co. which sell take-out beer in growlers.

But the allure of shopping in a one-stop, consumer-friendly supermarket atmosphere is considerable, said Jeff Turnbull of Lititz.

Turnbull, formerly of New England, also noted that the supermarket price for craft and premium beers are significantly cheaper. The corked, 750 ml Chimay Reserve bottle he chose rang up $4 less many six-pack boutiques charge.

“I guess what really matters is whether a supermarket can offer the variety and price to bring you back,” he said.

Ultimately, supermarkets and other retailers would like to take on beer distributors, which are relegated by state laws to sell only cases and kegs.

Ressler is among a growing number of customers dissatisfied with the beer distributor model.

“With Pennsylvania’s case laws, you roll the dice if you want to try something new,” he said. “You could be in trouble getting stuck with something you are not fond of.”

In the past six years Weis, Giant Food Stores, Wegman’s, Sheetz, and other retailers have opened 194 beer stores in the state — with about two dozen in nearby neighboring counties.

Retailers say offering beer, bananas and beauty aids provides a competitive edge, especially in LancasterCounty where only 29 beer distributors are licensed, according to Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board data.

“It’s an eye-opener, the sales have been very impressive,” Weis spokesman Dennis Curtin said referring to beer sales at the Lititz store.”

“We’ll definitely pursue more licenses in the LancasterCounty area. But that’s easier said than done,” he noted.

Supermarkets and convenience stores selling beer in the state have an “R” restaurant license.

Those licenses allow for the sale of beer, wine or spirits, but state law allows supermarkets and convenience stores to sell only beer — up to two six-packs or two individual beers for customers to consume at the supermarket cafe.

Since state lawmakers so far have balked at Gov. Corbett’s plan to revamp liquor laws — replacing 600 state-owned liquor stores and creating separate licenses available for supermarkets and convenience stores — retailers are forced to hunt for expensive, existing licenses.

Chris Brand, Giant spokesman, noted that so few retailers offer beer because few if any alcohol-sales licenses becomes available at any given time or place. And the license transfers, especially between municipalities, are closely scrutinized and require state and local approval.

“Just finding a license is a key part of the process,” Brand said.

PLCB regulations require supermarkets and convenience stores to sell food, have seating for 30, and provide a separate entrance and a dedicated beer sales register.

Brand said those uncontrollable variables decide when and where beer is sold at Giant. He said the relatively small size of the new Ephrata Giant opened late last year was also a factor in precluding beer sales there.

At least for now.

The Weis Beer Café in Lititz is the chain’s 18th in the state to open over the past six years. Giant and Wegman’s each operate 11 beer-selling stores in Pennsylvania.

Giant opened its newest BeerGarden this month in Exton, and the PLCB board last week heard Weis’ petition to open one in Conshohocken.

Patrick Burns is a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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