Walmart: Consumers want liquor in stores

By: Chip Minty The Journal Record September 1, 2022
 Alcohol wholesalers, distributors, retailers and others are weighing whether to support a push to legalize the sale of hard liquor in grocery and convenience stores in Oklahoma.
 Growing customer demand is fueling a push to allow the sale of spirits in grocery stores across Oklahoma, according to an Oklahoma City political consultant working for Walmart.
 “Our customers have told us they want more choice and convenience when shopping for spirits in Oklahoma, and we’re interested in seeing what role we might be able to play in advocating for them on this issue,” CMA Strategies Partner Pat McFerron said.
 Working on Walmart’s behalf, McFerron is organizing a meeting this month with alcohol wholesalers, distributors, industry lobbyists and associated services. He said they will discuss a potential legislative effort to change the Oklahoma liquor law that prohibits sale of whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila and other spirits in grocery markets and convenience stores.
 “Is it time to look at a liquor rewrite?” That’s the question McFerron plans to ask liquor lobbyists in a week or two. McFerron declined to disclose exactly when or where his meeting will be, hoping to avoid confrontation with Oklahoma liquor store owners.
 McFerron was behind a successful campaign in 2016 to pass State Question 792, which changed state law to allow wine and full-strength beer to be sold in grocery stores and other retail outlets. The measure faced strong opposition from the state’s liquor store owners, who say the new law devastated their sector, cutting profits and forcing dozens of businesses to shut down.
 There is no timetable on the current initiative, but McFerron said Oklahomans may be ready for it.
 Much has changed over the past six years, McFerron said. Consumer sentiments are different. Medical marijuana is now legal, and voters will soon decide on recreational marijuana. Perhaps the public is also interested in further changes to state liquor laws.
 “Products that customers desire are changing, and Oklahoma laws aren’t up to date with that,” he said.
 For example, ready-to-drink beverages are gaining popularity. Many of those products contain alcohol and are sold in cans as mixed drinks. Popular brands include Smirnoff Ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Jack Daniel’s Hard Cola, and Vodka Cruiser.
 Robert Jernigan, owner of Bacchus Wine & Spirits and president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said SQ 792 had a devastating effect on many small liquor stores in Oklahoma. Allowing grocery stores to sell spirits would further dwindle what’s left of their customer base, forcing scores more liquor stores to close.