If you’ve stopped by a grocery or convenience store since the beginning of 2019 in Colorado, you’ve likely noticed some new marketing near the beverage section.
“They all seem to be pretty excited about full strength beer,” said Guillermo Echevarría, an Aurora resident who is also excited about the change. “Coming from California, I was kind of used to being able to buy normal beer at a grocery store, so it was weird to come here and not be able to just pick it up right there.”
Though Colorado carries a reputation for its beer, with Coors being as “cold as the Rockies” and many of its craft breweries making their marks around the nation and world, it is not known for lax regulation when it comes to alcohol.
It wasn’t until 2008 that liquor stores in Colorado could open on Sunday and for 85 years most grocers and convenience stores have only been allowed to sell beer at 3.2 percent ABV (Alcohol By Volume). That changed when voters won a decades-long fight to push full-strength beer into supermarkets and convenience stores.
Now it remains to be seen who will come out as a winner as a new market is paved for consumers.
“I would be concerned as a small, mom and pop liquor store,” said John Tuck, a connoisseur of the Colorado craft beer industry. “I think the change will likely drive them out of business.”
Though full-strength beer is available at most grocers in the state, the selection remains limited when compared to liquor stores that have been receiving limited and seasonal releases from many of the state’s 400 breweries for years.
“I still prefer to visit the liquor store,” said Tuck. “I mean yes, the grocery store is great of you want something from New Belgium or a Dale’s (Pale Ale), but if you want a seasonal brew or something exclusive, you’re going to have to go the liquor store.”
Part of the reason why the selection is currently limited is only about 10 percent of the local breweries in Colorado have the appropriate licensing from the Colorado Department of Revenue to distribute beer in supermarkets and convenience stores.
According to King Soopers and Safeway – two of the largest grocery chains in the state – their approach is going to be regional when it comes to small and medium-sized breweries in the state.
While a resident of Boulder may find more Boulder-based breweries on grocer shelves, a resident in the suburbs will likely find beers from small and medium-sized breweries specific to that area along with large local and national brewers.
“I think that’s a smart decision to start,” said Tuck. “Breweries are already becoming more of a community destination than a landmark, so it makes sense that [King Soopers and Safeway] would take that approach.”
Though consumers clearly come out on top of the beer war, it is yet to be determined how the change will affect breweries, grocers and liquor stores.
According to some market analysts beer sales in Colorado could rise by 10 to 15 percent, with some expecting grocers to see 50 to 60 percent of that additional revenue. That poses a problem for liquor stores that, for the better part of a century, have controlled all or most of that slice of the pie.
“It’s a big deal, but it’s not a bone-crushing deal,” said Echevarría. “I get that here, people really like their beer. But there are still more beer options and more liquor options at a liquor store than at a King Soopers or 7-11. And honestly, if your business fails because of this one change, it probably wasn’t a very good business to begin with.”