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It’s time to make it more convenient to get canned cocktails in Pa. | Opinion

Imagine going to the grocery store to buy some soda. The rest of your family likes cola but you’ve always preferred root beer.

Unfortunately for you, the state doesn’t allow this store to sell root beer. In fact, no groceries or convenience stores in Pennsylvania are allowed to sell root beer. Root beer, in Pennsylvania, is only sold by the state. If you want root beer, you have to make a separate trip to a state-run store to buy it.

It doesn’t make any sense, does it?

This is a lot like how it is for people in Pennsylvania shopping for alcoholic beverages right now: You can walk into a grocery store to buy beer, wine and even hard seltzer, but to get any kind of canned cocktails – the kind made with spirits like vodka and tequila that you might serve or enjoy in exactly the same way – you can’t. You have to make the extra trip to the state-run liquor store.

Again: This makes no sense.

That’s why we are urging state lawmakers to pass sensible, straightforward legislation now in front of them that would allow ready-to-drink beverages, also known as “canned cocktails,” to be sold in the same places as beer, wine and hard seltzers.

Our organization, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, has more than 800 members who collectively operate more than 4,000 food and convenience stores across the commonwealth, employing more than a quarter million Pennsylvanians. Right now, the message customers are delivering to our members is clear—they want to be able to purchase canned cocktails alongside their beer and wine.

This isn’t just anecdotal evidence coming from a few retailers. It’s a groundswell of customer sentiment. Recent research conducted by bipartisan pollsters found that an overwhelming volume of voters across Pennsylvania – more than 80% – agree that it is time to update state rules around beverage sales.

Try getting four out of five people to agree on anything. The support for modernizing our liquor laws to be more convenient for Pennsylvania consumers cuts across age, racial, and party lines. It is clear that what our members have been hearing represents the will of the vast majority of Pennsylvanians.

You might be wondering why you can’t find all these similar beverages in the store together. The answer goes back almost 100 years to Prohibition, when government set up rules to make buying alcoholic beverages as inconvenient as possible. Incredibly, a century later, a lot of those laws still rule the land.

There is no good reason not to update our laws to reflect modern realities and provide Pennsylvanians with the convenient options they want and deserve.

Over time, voters have made sure their representatives got beer and wine back into grocery stores, among other convenient places, and the commonwealth has enjoyed increased tax receipts as a result. As they have increased dramatically in popularity, hard seltzers have recently joined them on shelves, meeting demand and further contributing to state coffers.

Canned cocktails have come along a little more recently – but they have quickly become the fastest-growing segment of the alcoholic beverage market.

These drinks have the same percentage of alcohol in them as beer and wine, and in some cases less. It just makes sense that they should be regulated the same way, and made available in the same places. Our members hear about it every day from their customers, and it’s time for Harrisburg to enact this commonsense reform on behalf of their constituents.

A few weeks ago, legislation was advanced through the state Senate’s Law and Justice Committee for consideration by the full chamber. This is a great first step, and we applaud them for advancing this bill.

Legislators now have the opportunity to acknowledge the enthusiasm of their constituents while taking a tangible step towards making our lives a little more convenient, while providing added tax revenue. This is the definition of a win-win, and it represents exactly the kind of sensible leadership and impact that everyone can appreciate.

In the end, adults in Pennsylvania simply want a convenient shopping experience with the kind of simple, sensible rules that enable them to choose the kinds of options they want. It’s time to get this done.

Alex Baloga is president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, a member of the Coalition for Convenient Sales, a broad-based organization of consumers and businesses representing tens of thousands of employees across the state.


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