Walmart adding a tasting station to its liquor store in Jane, Mo.

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 1,002 views 

Walmart runs a complete liquor store attached to supercenter no. 5261 in Jane, Mo. The liquor store has a separate entrance and is also accessible from the supercenter. Signs throughout the supercenter indicate Walmart is adding a tasting station inside the liquor store which is has been under renovation for the past several weeks.

The new tasting station is supposed to open Aug. 3 when the remodel is complete. Pipes were installed from the ceiling down to the small bar area which remains taped off with orange cones. The tasting area is located in the center of the store and will be run by third parties like other demo stations seen routinely in supercenters, according to Anne Hatfield, corporate spokeswoman at Walmart.

Until the remodel is complete the liquor store is closing at 7 p.m. so work can continue. The store is typically open 7 days a week until 1 a.m. The supercenter located adjacent to the liquor store is open 24 hours a day.

Hatfield said Walmart has testing stations in stores located in states where the retailer is allowed to do so. She said Arkansas is not one of those states. The tasting station will be used by vendors who book it for promoting their wines, spirits or beer. She was not aware of any set schedule for future tastings. Shoppers will have the opportunity to sample promotional liquor from vendors who rent the space.

Earlier this year Walmart unveiled a new curated line of 10 wines ranging in price from $11 to $16 a bottle. The Winemakers Selection is sold in 1,100 stores and compares well against much higher priced wines, according to Bella Vista resident Oscar Hansen, a sommelier or wine steward of 15 years, who was hired out of retirement by Walmart to help curate and evaluate the selection.

Al Dominguez, senior vice president over beverage and spirits at Walmart, said wine is a category where Walmart can give customers high quality at a value which differentiates Walmart.

“Anyone can make a high quality wine but to offer it at a good value is not that easy. Our goal was to have wines that outkick their coverage at $11 on average per bottle,” Dominguez said in June.

Store workers in Jane recently told Talk Business & Politics private brand wines are a large part of its offering as well as local and regional wines. U.S. grocery stores such as Kroger, Costco and Walmart are considered some of the largest U.S. wine retailers. Aldi, Trader Joe’s and Lidl also began selling wine and are expected to take share away from the leaders. Sam’s Club also revamped its wine collection in recent years in an effort to win more share among wine drinkers.

“Wine and spirits are big business for retailers, especially those that are concentrated in less restrictive states,” said Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail in Bentonville. “Costco has long had a robust wine program that enjoys considerable loyalty. Kroger and other mainline retailers have introduced tasting programs. Now, with Aldi and even dollar stores going after that mass-to-discount market, you could say that Walmart is playing a bit of catch-up.

“The Jane store already represents an anomaly in terms of sheer breadth of assortment,” she added. “Other Walmart stores that sell wine have a much narrower assortment and spirits are barely tapped at all. A tasting area in Jane will set that location apart even further from the rest of Walmart’s fleet, if not from competitors that have established wine and spirit programs. The space cleared in Jane would seem to tee up something bigger than a simple counter tasting area. It will be interesting to see if Walmart gets more aggressive in other locations.”

Walmart has also increased it selections of craft beer, one of the hottest categories. The U.S. beer industry sells more than $111.1 billion in beer and malt-based beverages each year. A recent poll by Gallup found 64% of people drink alcoholic beverages. From those who drink, 40% prefer beer, 20% prefer wine and 26% prefer spirits. Consumer preference for beer declined from 43% in 2016, and wine preference dropped from 32%. Consumer preferences for spirits increased from 20% in 2016. Beer is still the most preferred alcoholic drink, Gallop noted.

IBIS World reports beer had a 46% share of dollars spent last year, while spirits had 36.6% of the spend and wine accounted for 17.3% of the spend. Craft beer is one of the fast growing categories in adult beverages. In Arkansas there are more than 35 craft brewers with an economic impact of $406 million, according to the Brewers Association. Missouri has 92 craft breweries with an economic impact of $1 billion.

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