Indian Wine Academy was happy and envious to note that the Karnataka government had announced the sale of wine through supermarkets. Delhi government has been sitting on the file for years for reasons known to them, after granting a principle OK, and delWine was one of the first media to have broken the news online about the progressive policy of the Karnataka government.
It was quite surprising to come across a news item in the Mid Day Bangalore edition which said that traders and shop-owners are not exactly whooping with joy at the idea of selling wine in general stores and malls. "We are not considering selling wine in our shops because people don't like to see liquor in their shopping cart," reportedly said M R Nandeesh, manager, Garuda Mall.
Similarly a manager at Food World in Gandhi Bazaar, said, "We are not sure how consumers will react to it, and secondly, margins on wine sales are thin. For a meager profit, why should we lose the goodwill of consumers?" She added that though Food World has a license to sell liquor, only five of its 41 outlets are selling it as consumer response was not encouraging.
Is Bangalore full of boors who do not like to see ‘liquor in the shopping cart’? First-off, it needs to be clarified that wine is not liquor. It is wine the sale of which has been allowed at a nominal license cost. It is an accepted fact that increasing number of women who drink wine. Even when they don’t, they would love to pick up a bottle or two for their husbands or for a party in the house, in the cool comfort of a mall while shopping for groceries. Many men do not like to stand in line where people are waiting to get their daily fix.
Secondly, the policy gives you a choice. No one is forcing the shops like Food World to sell wine. If their clientele is not the wine-drinking type-they need not hurt the sensitivity of their clients. If at all, the ease in availability might- just might, make some people shift from hard liquor to wine. It will certainly make the job of buying wine for wine drinkers much easier. In a supermarket, the display, storage and variety would be a lot better and the focus on wines will give a better selection to the consumer.
Perhaps Food World has not realised that once they start stocking wine, the wine producers and importers might descend on them like they would not have imagined, offering them all kinds of incentives to display, store and sell their wines. There would be people who would love to get the space to sell it for them.
According to Mid Day Mr. Vanagiri Gowda, President of the Wine Merchants' Association remarked that the idea was impractical and wondered why anyone would go to the supermarket when all drinks are available in liquor shops. This is not only naïve but his reaction as the head of a merchants’ Association is rather mild. Supermarkets sales will definitely make wines cheaper for the consumer and an additional market of wine drinkers will be added due to the ease of availability, the existing wine and liquor shops will suffer some sales. This should infuriate the members of his association.
A parallel situation was seen in the New York State where the sale is allowed only through the liquor shops. The governor of the financially troubled state proposed to allow the supermarkets to sell too, hoping to raise its revenues from license fees and additional sales. While the consumers and supermarkets were elated, the liquor stores created such a strong uproar and lobby against the proposal that the idea had to be scrapped. It is another matter that another elected member has raked up the issue again so that the proposal is brought up again in the next year’s budget.
Ironically, the adjoining state of Pennsylvania to its south, is contemplating allowing placing wine vending machines in the supermarkets to make it easier for the qualified shoppers to pick up their wine requirement. The maximum wine sales in the US are made through retail chains like Costco and Sam’s Club and not the liquor shops.
It was good to read that people like Mr. Krishna, the MD of Karnataka Wine Board which recommended the policy, are not disheartened. Says a bindaas Dr. Krishna, "We have not received any application, but that doesn't mean people are not interested." The government had apparently not yet received any application for licenses, a week after the announcement, despite offering it at a mere Rs 1,000($20) a year, compared to liquor licenses that cost lakhs.
The height of ignorance about wine drinking, prevalent in Bangalore and surely in Delhi and other parts of the country, can be gauged from the action of two teetotaler friends who went to taste wine at the recently organised wine festival in Bangalore. ‘Everybody says drinking wine is beneficial so we wanted to try it out,” said the bindaas friend. His boorish companion said they had their wives’ permission for the trial session. “We assured them we will not go the bad way,” said the other friend.
It was heartening to read about the bindaas members of the Bangalore Wine Club, who won’t mind guiding you to a bootlegger who will get you the wines that you want to drink-damn the supermarket controversy. One does not stretch that far in advising wine lovers in Delhi, primarily because the bootleggers don’t normally store their wines well and more often than not, tout wines of older vintages that have peaked out. But there is another half-way option of buying wine from across the border in (Gurgaon) Haryana. At least the money does not go into the coffers of the greedy Delhi government and the wines are much cheaper in Haryana- costlier the wine, more the savings.
Particularly impressive was the reported recent outing of the Bangalore wine club where they tasted several wines at a hotel where even the kids were welcome and were happy splashing around in the pool. It’s a great way of making kids understand that wine is ‘no big deal.’ And it is just something to go with food. The boors in Bangalore might think that wine is some sort of hooch that might kill you.
The bindaas have their work cut out in Bangalore to educate the boors not to boo the policy but appreciate the freedom of selling it if they want- for surely the day is not away, when like the supermarkets like Spencer’s in Gurgaon and Nature’s Basket in Mumbai, people would make a store a wine destination if they get good product stored properly, at a competitive price from the sales people who have adequate wine knowledge.
Meanwhile, a report confirming that over 1,200 cases of wine were sold less than half-way through the festival at Rs. 25 a pop, and the long lines full of people who would normally not like to be seen in the drinking joints, indicates that the supermarkets will be losing out on significant business if they don’t get their the act together and give a re-look at a great business opportunity provided by the progressive government.