October 1, 2008

‘Alcopops’ Disappear From Utah

By Lisa Riley Roche Deseret News

Starting today, retail sales of flavored malt beverages will come to a halt in Utah -- at least for now.

A new provision in state law that takes effect today mandates that grocery and convenience stores stop selling so-called "alcopops" -- like Mike's Hard Lemonade -- that are brewed like beer but flavored to taste like sweet, liquor-based mixed drinks.

But before the products can be moved to state liquor store shelves as required, they must meet new labeling requirements unique to Utah that are intended to make it clear they contain alcohol.

So far, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says, none have complied.

But Tom Zdunich, the department's purchasing director, said that could change. Several liquor makers, he said, are expected to submit new labels for state approval in the next month or two.

"They're trying to decide, 'Do we want to do a label change,'" Zdunich said, especially when the labels will have to be specially printed just for the Utah market. The new labels don't allow abbreviations and must be in a larger-than-usual type.

The requirement is part of a bill passed by the 2008 Legislature earlier this year, amid claims that flavored malt beverages are marketed to underage drinkers. That bill also increased the amount of liquor in most mixed drinks from 1 ounce to 1.5 ounces.

Dane Carlton, owner and president of Carlton/Miller Brands, which distributes both domestic and imported beers as well as a number of flavored malt beverages, said the new requirements mean fewer choices for consumers.

"The selection will be severely restricted," Carlton said.

There's a list of 18 flavored malt beverage products, including at least seven that were previously available in grocery and convenience stores, that the department has agreed to sell in state liquor stores once the new labels are in place.

Zdunich said about two-thirds of the products that had been sold in Utah weren't even submitted for the list, likely because the manufacturers were no longer interested in the market.

The flavored malt beverages have slowly been disappearing from grocery and convenience store shelves in anticipation of the law taking effect. Carlton said some stores ran out of products a month ago. "At this point, there shouldn't be anything left," he said.

The 47 Smith's Food and Drug Centers located throughout the state were expected to be in compliance by Tuesday, the company's vice president of public affairs, Marsha Gilford, said.

"We're disappointed we can't offer this to our customers anymore," Gilford said.

The stores makes more money from selling lower-alcohol beer, she said, but removing the flavored malt beverages is "definitely a significant impact to our sales." Gilford declined to be more specific.

The sponsor of the change in the law, Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the date for compliance with the new requirements was extended to October to give the manufacturers plenty of time to comply.

"If there's a profit potential and if there's a willing customer base, the manufacturers of these beverages will find a way to meet those," Bramble said.

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