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Task force puts mixed-drinks proposal on ice

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In its final report, the Mixed Spirit Beverage Task Force recommended against expanding the availability of ready-to-drink mixed drinks to grocery and convenience stores.

The task force cited the high alcoholic content of RTD spirits, along with their sweet flavors, as posing a potential danger to consumers if made as accessible as beer and wine. The task force also cited concerns of the branding of RTD spirits, which often resemble energy drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages.

“It is the opinion of the committee that spirit-based RTD cocktails remain under the control of the ABC Board until some of the above questions can be answered,” the report reads.

In May of 2023, Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, filed a bill that would expand the availability of RTD spirits – which are currently only available at Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control stores and private liquor stores – to grocery and convenience stores, and in turn expand the drinks’ availability from less than 1,000 locations to more than 4,600.

With some lawmakers and organizations voicing concerns over the proposal, the Legislature established a task force to research the idea of expanding RTD spirit availability, and to make recommendations on its findings by early 2024.

The task force held regular hearings in late 2023 to hear from both supporters and opponents to the proposal. 

Supporters included organizations such as the Petroleum & Convenience Marketers of Alabama and the Alabama Grocers Association, both of which argued the state’s restrictions on RTD spirits were inconsistent, given the availability of certain beers and wines with higher alcohol content. 

Opponents, which included ABC and Alabama Citizens Action Program, an interdenominational ministry, warned that the expanded availability could exacerbate harmful drinking habits, particularly among minors.

Bart Fletcher, president of the Petroleum & Convenience Marketers of Alabama, told Alabama Daily News Friday that he was disappointed with the task force’s recommendation, and pointed to what he considered to be the inconsistencies in the availability of RTD spirits.

“Our goal is to provide this new product in our stores to our customers, who are asking for it, and frankly, are a little bit confused,” Fletcher said. 

“If you go to a University of Alabama football game, you can buy a spirit-based RTD in Bryant-Denny Stadium, you can buy (one) at Neville Arena at Auburn, but you can’t buy a package of RTDs at your local convenience or grocery store. I think that’s just confusing to the customer.”

While not the recommendation he was hoping for, Fletcher said that he and other supporters of the measure would continue to advocate for the availability of RTD spirits to be expanded.

“We’re going to continue to try to come up with some sort of agreement, compromise, whatever the case may be,” he said. 

“We’re in hopes that we’ll still find a way to bring these high-demand products to our retail locations. The task force’s report does not diminish our desire to have these products available in our stores, and we’re going to continue to try to work towards that end.”

On the other hand, Greg Davis, president and CEO of the interdenominational ministry ACAP, said he was pleased with the task force’s recommendation, and suggested that untold damage to minors and adults with alcohol addiction was likely avoided in the decision.

“I’m thankful that the task force listened to the concerns of ABC and organizations like ACAP, who had real concern about the wide availability of these products and the horror they could have on individuals and minors,” Davis told ADN on Friday.

“This is something that should stay in the ABC stores, something with that high a volume of alcohol. Making it available from 900 to (4,600) locations was not going to be a good thing for the people of Alabama. If people want them, they know where to get them.”

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