AP NEWS

Connecticut craft beer staying out of Target and Walmart

March 26, 2019

Craft beer lovers won’t be seeing locally made brews on Target and Walmart shelves any time soon.

A crucial committee at the General Assembly approved a modified bill aimed at streamlining the state’s craft alcohol industry Monday, killing a component that would have allow big-box chain retailers to sell beer in the process.

“The committee felt that it was not something that was appropriate to helping out existing interests, including breweries and package stores,” said lobbyist Carroll Hughes, who opposed the box store idea when it first appeared last month in a proposal by Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton.

The concept would have allowed “the sale of beer in a store with over 6,000 square feet of floor space (and) at least 20 percent of which is dedicated to the sale of groceries.”

Along with eating into the bottom line of small businesses, Hughes said, expanding into the big retail marketplaces could create problems for brewers that may not be able to meet the production demands created by both package stores and big box grocers.

“Most of these (brewers) are small startups that are in these craft breweries, and the package stores are the places where you can sell your beer,” he said.

Lobbyist Josh Hughes, founder and executive director of The Connecticut Alcohol Retailers Exchange Inc., a trade association representing package stores and liquor retailers, argued the contrary.

The organization, which also supports Target and Walmart, launched an advertising campaign encouraging beer sales in the big box stores prior to the vote.

“It’s not creating a new category,” Josh Hughes said. “We were advocating for them to be able to sell beer in their stores just like current grocers can do.”

Connecticut, along with dozens of states, already allow grocery stores to sell beer. CARE said in a press release that the expansion would improve the state’s economic development attractiveness.

The setback hasn’t kept the organization from seeking support for the expansion.

“The campaign is still alive,” Josh Hughes said, adding that CARE is continuing its efforts to see beer sold in big-box retailers.

Keeping big-box stores from selling beer hasn’t affected the craft beer market much, according to industry observers.

Ultimately, brewers stand to gain plenty of perks with Witkos’ bill among others that have increased sale capabilities and reduced obstacles into the growing craft beer industry, according to Phil Pappas, executive director of the CT Brewers Guild, which supports the state’s increasing number of breweries,

Connecticut breweries produced 166,848 barrels of beer in 2017, which resulted in the overall craft beer industry having a $718 million economic impact on Connecticut.

The Guild has focused on direct-to-consumer sales, Pappas said.

“We want to work closely with all retailers that have the ability to sell beer,” he said. “Where you can purchase beer from is a priority of ours. We just want to ensure that people are putting Connecticut beer on draft wherever.”

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com