Media Campaign Kicks Off to Expand Availability of Wine in TN

As early voting kicks off this week, so too is a robust push to put wine on grocery store shelves across the state in 2016.

Red White and Food, a grocery industry-backed nonprofit group that wants to uncork expanded vino sales in the Volunteer State, launched a statewide media campaign Monday. The group is trying to encourage voters in 78 communities to approve local referendums allowing wine sales in a wider range of places besides retail liquor stores.

“First, the ads create awareness that the question of whether to allow wine in retail food stores is now with the voters. Second, and importantly, we are asking people to Vote For Wine,” said Susie Alcorn, the wine-in-groceries campaign manager, in a press release issued Monday.

The campaign also encourages voters to imbibe the full content of their ballots before exiting the booth, as the wine-sales referendum question is toward the bottom.

Two of the five video ads produced — the 30-second “Question” and the “Wheel” spots — will air primarily in the state’s large media markets, Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, the Tri-Cities and Jackson. But communications and marketing will reach all of the jurisdictions holding a referendum. The other three ads will show up on the campaign’s social media channels. The campaign also expects to use in-store displays and advertisements.

Red White and Food raised $900,000 in the third quarter and spent $771.43, according to recent finance disclosures. However, the campaign said it was not yet releasing information related to the cost of the ad campaign.

There’s been very little organized statewide opposition to the more-wine campaign.

Locally, though, there’s some resistance. For example, a group of Blount County liquor store owners called Citizens for Local Control of Alcohol Sales is trying to sow doubt about the wisdom of widening the availability of wine in Maryville and Alcoa.

They’ve paid for a billboard ad in Blount County alleging that if the referendum passes, “fortified wine” like Mad Dog 20/20 will be unleashed in convenience stores throughout the Smoky Mountain foothills. They say the backers of the change in the law have misrepresented what it actually permits – that “wine in grocery stores” really means unlimited bottles and boxes of the intoxicating drink showing up on shelves in convenience marts, pharmacies and dollar stores.

“If (the voters) know all the facts and it passes, so be it, but right now it’s being sold and pushed as WGIS, Wine in Grocery Stores,” Darrell Tipton, spokesperson for the group, told Maryville Daily Times. “The public is not being told that, yeah, it’s not just going to be in your Krogers and Food Citys. It’s going to be in all your convenience markets, your drug stores. Convenience for getting wine will not be a problem any more. You’ll be able to run down to the corner market and pick it up.”

After seven years of debate, the General Assembly this year approved a measure allowing more retailers to sell wine to consumers. According to the measure, retail grocery stores in communities that have passed a referendum allowing wine sales will be able to begin stocking wine on their shelves in July 2016. However, if a grocery store is within 500 feet of a liquor retailer, they have to get the retailer’s permission or wait until July 2017.

A community must first have allowed either liquor-by-the-drink or package store sales to hold a referendum for grocery store wine sales.

The legislation’s House sponsor, state Rep. Bill Lundberg, a Bristol Republican, told TNReport Tuesday that he thinks the campaign had been going very well.

But the surprising thing about this election cycle, “and no offense to the candidates,” said Lundberg, is that because most seats were fairly safe this year, the races weren’t “much of a draw across the state in many instances.” Instead, the referendum and the four constitutional amendments appear to be the issues that are going to drive voter turnout, he said.