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ALCOHOL OUTLOOK: So what would new grocery order look like?Don't expect more outside names to flood into market just if beer, wine reforms occur

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If Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to reform alcohol sales happens this year, it would pave the way for walking into a Pennsylvania grocery store and buying beer and wine.

Revolutionary for many consumers? Sure could be.

But does this make Pennsylvania ripe for new grocery competitors who have experience selling alcohol in other states rapidly moving in and taking market share, while businesses here have played by different rules?

Cumberland County-based Giant Food Stores LLC, for one, already has its own experience retailing beer.

Meanwhile, chains based in other states say alcohol sales could be a factor in opening stores in Pennsylvania, but it is far from the only consideration.

Some of Giant's Pennsylvania stores hold restaurant licenses and can sell beer to go, spokesman Chris Brand said.

Under a restaurant license issued by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, a grocery store can sell six- and 12-packs of beer in a section called a beer garden that is combined with an eatery, he said.

It also has deals with some Pennsylvania limited wineries that sell their products at their own stores within Giant locations, Brand said.

Then, in other states where Giant operates under the Martin's name, alcohol sales are sometimes more freely allowed, and the company has gained experience in the retail business line there, Brand said.

If the laws were relaxed in Pennsylvania, Giant likely would seek to add beer and wine at more stores somewhat similar to the way it sells at its specialty licensed locations in the commonwealth, he said.

With variation from location to location, the setups also could be thought of as similar to Giant's natural and specialty foods sections as stores within a store, Brand said.

There also could be renovations at stores to create more space, he said.

As of now, the reforms would cap sales from licensed grocery stores and drugstores at two six-packs or one 12-pack to a customer, said Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the governor.

Big-box retailers would be allowed to sell cases and convenience stores would be limited to selling a six-pack to a customer, Shirk said.

On the wine side, big-box stores, grocers and drugstores would be allowed up to six bottles of wine to a customer, whereas convenience stores wouldn't be allowed wine sales.

Both Shirk and Brand did note that a lot of opportunities for debate exist between now and whatever final legislation might pass.

Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets Inc. already operates in Pennsylvania, including a store in Cumberland County.

For Wegmans, being able to sell alcohol is a consideration when deciding whether to build new stores because that increases sales and profitability, spokeswoman Jo Natale said.

But "by no means is it the only factor" when deciding where to build new stores, she said.

Also, at least one out-of-state grocery competitor does not see beer and wine sales as a panacea of profits to beckon it into the Pennsylvania market just on face value.

California-based Safeway Inc. said it would take more than the right to sell beer and wine, as it can elsewhere in the country, to open stores in Pennsylvania.

However, it could help tip the scales down the road if other factors were in its favor, said Greg Ten Eyck, director of public affairs and government relations for Safeway's Eastern Division. The division is based in Maryland.

About a dozen years ago, Safeway acquired the Genuardi's grocery chain in the greater Philadelphia area, Ten Eyck said.

For many reasons having to do with the competitiveness in the market, Safeway recently decided to divest the holdings — including selling some to Giant, he said.

Around the time it acquired Genuardi's, Safeway and other large national grocers were in more of an expansion mode into new territories, Ten Eyck said.

But if it were one day taking another look at Pennsylvania, having the right to sell beer and wine could be a small part of making the numbers work to put stores in the commonwealth, Ten Eyck said.

Grocery store margins are pretty thin, so every little bit can help, he said.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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