Pa.'s liquor stores seeing slower growth in 2018 and 'pathetic' online sales

Wine sale in stores like this Wegmans location in King of Prussia have cut down on foot traffic in state stores, slowing revenue growth for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Liquor sales in the commonwealth grew less than 2.5 percent in the first seven months of fiscal 2018, compared to the same period a year ago — well short of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s projected 3.4 percent growth for the year that ends June 30, agency officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Appropriations Committee did not directly ask PLCB representatives, board members Mike Negra and Michael Newsome or executive director Charlie Mooney what caused sales growth to slow in a year when the board raised prices on hundreds of popular items under a new pricing policy adopted last year.

The PLCB officials did say, however, in another context that foot traffic in state stores was down because of the availability of wine in hundreds of supermarkets and convenience stores.

That has likely cut down in impulse purchases of spirits, for example, said Negra. “Now if you’re buying that wine from a Wegmans, a Giant, a Giant Eagle or whatever, you’re not in our store. It’s a separate trip. By all means we’ve been impacted. Are we down? No. Are were up as much as we were? No,” he said.

Total revenues were up 3.9 percent in fiscal 2017, to $2.01 billion, up from $1.94 billion the year before. Both figures are net of taxes.

Mooney said the agency is not sitting still in the face of slowing revenue growth at the agency’s 600 stores. “We are looking at changing the marketing direction. We are looking at putting a new e-commerce platform together,” he said, calling the agency’s $2 million a year in revenue from e-commerce “pathetic.”

“We want to grow that to $50 million,” Mooney said. To help, the PLCB plans to open what he called a “26,000 square foot e-commerce store” by Labor Day.

Of paramount concern to lawmakers was whether the PLCB could continue transferring $185 million a year to the state’s General Fund. When asked directly whether the agency could guarantee those payments, the PLCB representatives said “no” in unison.