WSWA Responds to USA Today Opinion Piece

May 22, 2020
Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America President & CEO Michelle Korsmo responds to misrepresentation of America's family-owned wine and spirit wholesalers in USA Today Opinion piece

In their recent article, authors Jarrett Dieterle and Teri Quimbly argue that today’s system of alcohol regulation is “outdated” and “protectionist” but fail to recognize that nowhere else in the world is there an alcohol marketplace as dynamic or as safe as in the United States. In no other country do consumers have access to such a wide array of products, as well as protection from counterfeit and illicit alcohol. Just look over the border to last week in Mexico where tainted alcohol left 71 dead.


We can all agree that Prohibition was the epitome of “unintended consequences,” but to claim states severely limit access to alcohol today, conveniently ignores the reality of our vibrant alcohol marketplace.  The 21st Amendment built the pillars of today’s system of alcohol laws, which is the global standard for smart alcohol regulation and overall industry success.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the current system gave state and local leaders the ability to strike the perfect balance of convenience and safety for consumers in 49 of the 50 states, with Pennsylvania’s Governor Wolf walking back some of the initial mismanagement of that state’s alcohol system.


The reality is, every state must be able to meet the unique needs of both businesses and residents during unprecedented “stay-at-home” orders.  Since the start of this crisis, America’s family-owned wholesalers continue to keep the critical supply chain moving, with operations and logistics teams working around the clock in shifts to keep trucks filled with alcohol beverages from licensed producers to licensed retailers, safely and on time.


With a dramatic shift of business from on-premise (restaurants and bars) to off-premise (liquor stores) consumption, wholesalers worked with state officials and retailers to quickly standup curbside pickup operations that accommodate sales during social distancing. Delivery platforms, like Drizly, are giving local retailers the ability to offer an ecommerce solution with consumers shopping from home enjoying doorstep convenience from licensed retailers.


Today’s alcohol system has proven flexible in the midst of this crisis and continues to evolve, but what the authors conveniently discount as “headaches” are the regulations and licensing requirements that keep counterfeit products out of the marketplace and protect the trust consumers place in brands and the licensed retailers who sell them.


Unlike the authors falsely claim, alcohol products ARE substantially different from other products. In a recent study, 86 percent of respondents agreed that alcohol is a product that needs regulation and 82 percent agreed that alcohol is different than other products and should be regulated differently.


Today’s system of alcohol regulation is designed to address issues the nation faced before Prohibition that only benefitted the largest producers. Today, craft brands have a legitimate and competitive chance to get into markets throughout the country, onto the shelves of licensed retailers and bars, through wine and spirit wholesalers. The craft marketplace in the U.S. is the most diverse and successful in the world because suppliers and wholesalers work together to meet consumer demand.


The current system has also created one of the most efficient and effective public-private partnerships for accountability and tax collection, with wholesalers playing the crucial role of ensuring state and local governments receive tax revenue from alcohol sold into their states. This critical revenue funds countless public programs that would otherwise require additional taxes to be collected to support them. And, with recent incidents of producers and retailers illegally shipping products into states without reporting the sale and remitting taxes, Governors need this accountability, transparency, and tax revenue to fund the COVID-19 recovery. 


From a decentralized and competitive marketplace, fostering conveniences like Drizly, to smart regulations and safeguards that that keep counterfeits out of the marketplace and alcohol out of the hands of minors through age verification by licensed retailers, the current system is built for today’s challenges.