The number of options consumers have at the retail level really just depends on how long and how wide the shelves are, because there are hundreds of thousands of alcohol beverages on the market today that can easily fill any unclaimed space.
Since 2000, the number of wineries in the United States jumped from 2,000 to 7,000 according to Cary Greene, Esq., chief operating officer and general counsel, for WineAmerica, the national association of American wineries.
Today, there are some 4,500 distilled spirit products available for purchase, according to the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), with a consistent thread of new product innovation.
The Brewers Association reports that in 2010 more than 1,750 breweries were operating in the United States—an all-time high since the late 1800s.
With all of this growth, it can be difficult for consumers to choose between a familiar brand and one with which they might not be familiar or that is new to the market.
“People aren’t going to necessarily walk into a store and say ‘I want to buy a traminette.’ It’s a wine you have to introduce people to,” says Greene.
WineAmerica’s State Associations Council (SAC) works at the grassroots level to help build partnerships with allied state and regional winery and grape grower associations to provide a forum for communication and action on issues that concern the wine industry.
“When you have an industry as young as ours we need all the help we can get to make sure that the word about American wine gets outs there and sampling programs really are a fabulous way of doing that,” says Greene.
Since 2010, there have been a number of states that have moved to pass laws to allow off-premise sampling. Washington, for example, which has a thriving craft beer market and growing wine industry, passed legislation last year, Senate Bill 6329, allowing grocery stores licensed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) to offer beer and wine tasting. The new legislation followed a successful pilot program that ended in 2009 and requires an application process.
The WSLCB has initiated another pilot program this year to allow beer and wine sampling at farmers’ markets. Specifically, 10 farmers’ markets were selected by the WSLCB to participate in the program that will run from September 2011 to Nov. 1, 2012.
“This pilot is another avenue for Washington’s breweries and wineries to educate customers about their products,” says Sharon Foster, WSLCB chair in a statement. “Because farmers’ markets take place in a community setting, there are safeguards in place to ensure tastings are conducted with public safety in mind.”
Washington has more than 700 wineries, according to the Washington State Wine Commission, and more than 100 craft breweries operating in the state, reports the Washington Beer Commission.
David Wojnar, vice president of state government relations at DISCUS, says that the recent activity surrounding sampling laws in Washington, which is a control state, is testament to the value that off-premise tastings offer that state—such as added revenue—its retailers, brand owners and consumers, impacting purchases and possibly ones at a higher price point.
“Washington has found sampling to be a very effective marketing tool, so much so that it has just opened up a new super store in West Seattle, which has a dedicated tasting bar,” Wojnar says. “So, I think that really substantiates what we are saying, which is that tasting has become a real common and critical tool in the marketplace.”
The WSLCB opened its premier liquor store in West Seattle, Wash., in August of this year. It’s the first of two high-volume, specialty liquor stores to open in urban markets, the WSLCB says, with features including a tasting bar. As of September, the WSLCB has implemented a yearlong spirits tasting pilot in 30 state contract and tribal liquor stores statewide. The premiere liquor store is one of the 30 stores to participate in the pilot.
Other states that have made changes to their alcohol laws over 2010 and 2011 include Tennessee, New Jersey, California, Michigan and Virginia. According to DISCUS, 43 states have some form of on- or off-premise tasting, 35 states have off-premise tasting and seven states have no spirits tasting.
“Consumers are reluctant to maybe spend $45 or $50 on a bottle of single malt Scotch they’ve never tasted,” notes Ben Jenkins, vice president, DISCUS, “but when you are allowed to taste it at a tastings bar in a liquor store, it helps educate their palate and makes their decision a little more efficient.”