Imagine going to the store to pick up a six-pack of Diet Coke but finding that you can only purchase a 36-pack, or that Diet Coke has been eliminated from store shelves altogether.
You ask the store clerk when more will be coming, but the clerk informs you that Diet Coke has been discontinued in Utah. The clerk explains the reason is because laws in other states changed and the soda manufacturers determined it wasn’t economically prudent to produce Diet Coke in Utah, but he offers you a six-pack of Sprite or suggests a diet cola from a local soda maker. My guess is you would say it is unconscionable that state law is prohibiting Diet Coke from being sold here.
This is a dramatic explanation of what is happening to Utah beer drinkers right now.
Recently, laws changed in Oklahoma and Colorado to allow for regular-strength beer to be sold in their local stores. Later this year, Kansas will also join them in allowing production line beer to be sold at convenience and grocery stores. Utah and Minnesota will soon be the only states to require 3.2 percent alcohol strength beer to be sold in places where you pick up your groceries. In Minnesota, most beer sales take place in private liquor stores, which can sell production line beer, leaving Utah as the only state with a major 3.2 percent beer market.
Because Utah is a small state population-wise, and has a low demand for beer, it has forced beer manufacturers to evaluate if brewing 3.2 percent beer makes economic sense. In some cases, the manufacturers are saying it doesn’t and are phasing out portions of their 3.2 percent products and package offerings. As a result, consumers now have fewer choices when purchasing beer in grocery and convenience stores and, in many cases, are being forced to purchase remaining products in larger package sizes.
This is leaving beer purchasers in an unintended predicament. They either have to over-purchase the beer they want, by having to buy a 36-pack instead of a six-pack, or are forced to go to the state liquor store where they can purchase beers and other alcoholic beverages that have much higher alcohol content levels than grocery or convenience store beer.
There is an easy fix to this situation.
Utah’s lawmakers can raise the state’s alcohol cap to 4.8 percent. Only 18 states in the nation place a cap on alcohol content of beer sold in grocery and convenience stores. If Utah made this change to 4.8 percent, we would still have the lowest cap (tied with Kansas) and have the strictest DUI limit in the nation. This change would preserve the ability for your local stores to offer the beer brands and package sizes that traditionally have been available.
This change does not mean that all beers will move from 3.2 percent to 4.8 percent. Beers are just like any other food product that uses a recipe. These recipes are intended to achieve a particular taste profile and not to generate a specific alcohol content. With this legislative change, beers will continue to follow their original recipes, which will generate a range of alcohol content from 3.2 percent to 4.8 percent. In fact, the top 75 selling beers in Utah, when brewed using their original recipes, would only increase the amount of alcohol in a 12-ounce serving of beer by less than one-tenth of a tablespoon.
The grocers, convenience stores, wholesalers and beer manufacturers of the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition recognize and appreciate Utah’s values and culture. The people of Utah are our customers. But to give all of our customers the experience they’ve enjoyed in the past, changes need to be made. If nothing happens, speaking about beer in soda terms, our customers may soon come to the store hoping to find a Diet Coke and find that their only option is Diet Shasta.
Kate Bradshaw is the state director for the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition.