Ind. Retailers Turn to Consumers

Published in CSP Daily News

Coalition seeks Hoosiers' support in alcohol-sales lobbying effort

By  Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Content Development Coordinator

INDIANAPOLIS -- In an ongoing effort to change restrictions on the sale of liquor in Indiana, retailers in that state launched the Hoosiers for Beverage Choices website yesterday to gain grassroots support from residents.

The website, www.beveragechoices.com, gives visitors the ability to sign an online petition to Indiana legislators in support of cold beer sales and Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages in drug, grocery and convenience stores. The site also provides information about Indiana's "outdated" alcoholic beverage laws [image-nocss] and updates on activities in other states as they modernize their laws to reflect the needs of today's time-starved shopper.

Using the website, consumers will be able to communicate directly with members of the Indiana General Assembly during the upcoming legislative session in support of cold beer and Sunday sales.

In Indiana, only liquor stores can sell cold beer, while all retailers are prohibited from selling carryout liquor on Sundays. Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, Indianapolis, told CSP Daily News that the goal of new coalition of retailer associations is to facilitate grassroots feedback to legislators. "Those of us who lobby the Indiana General Assembly on behalf of retail interests do a good job of articulating members concerns, but we realize that lawmakers need to hear from constituents directly," he said. "We want to give the public the mechanism through our new website to communicate to their legislators."

The coalition has hired the communications firm Corydon Group LLC, Indianapolis, to lobby on behalf of the associations, including the Indiana Retail Council, the Indiana Petroleum Council and the Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (IPMCSA).

"These laws have been around since 1933 when they repealed Prohibition," said Chris Gibson, a partner with Corydon Group. "We want to organize Hoosiers who already feel strongly about the need for convenience and choice—the soccer mom who's shopping on Sunday and wants to purchase beer for the week and Joe six-pack who wants to buy a cold, six-pack of beer at a convenience store."

Gibson and Monahan said a combination of a strong lobbying effort by packaged-liquor stores and a tendency by lawmakers to keep the status quo have kept these seemingly antiquated rules alive. That inertia seems to be spreading, with the passage earlier this year of restrictions on the distribution of liquor licenses among Indiana retailers, inclusive of c-store chains, groceries and mass merchants. Monahan said the industry has adjusted to that move, but must continue to focus on creating a level playing field.

The hiring of Corydon Group, however, has created a rift of its own. The IPMCSA has accused brewer Anheuser-Busch of "bowing" to pressure from liquor stores—the only retailers in the state allowed to sell cold beer. The accusation arose from what officials with IPMCA told CSP Daily News was an "ultimatum" that A-B gave to Corydon Group, which previously provided services to both the St. Louis-based A-B and the coalition. The alleged move forced Corydon Group to choose between its lobbying work with A-B and its new contract with the retailer coalition.

"It's causing a great deal of concern among c-stores…that A-B abandoned their neutrality," Scot Imus, executive director for IPMCA told CSP Daily News. "Forcing our contractor to choose is highly questionable."

According to Imus, Corydon Group initially received permission to work with the coalition, and a turnabout occurred after discussions with representatives from the liquor-store clients.

An A-B spokesperson told CSP Daily News, "Anheuser-Busch has remained neutral on the sale of alcohol beverages on Sunday and the sale of cold beer at drug, grocery and convenience stores in the state of Indiana.These are matters for the state legislature and retailers to debate and determine what is in the best interest of consumers. As always, we continue to value our customers in all retail channels.With respect to our work with The Corydon Group, both companies have mutually agreed to end our working arrangement."

Officials with Corydon declined to comment directly on the matter, confirming only that the company handled lobbying efforts for A-B for three years and is in the process of withdrawing from further engagements with the beer manufacturer.

By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Content Development Coordinator
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