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Craft beer, wine popularity spark new strategy for retail sales

Craft beer and wine are becoming an increasingly important part of grocery store sales, prompting several competitors in this region to expand their selections and develop new strategies to attract thirsty shoppers.

“Grocery stores are seeing the surge in demand for craft beer — it’s a growing segment,” said Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. Ohio now has 93 breweries, up from 58 in 2012, with as many as 30 more in the works, MacDonald said. And nationwide, craft beer sales rose 7.8 percent in volume and 14.3 percent in dollar sales in 2013 over the previous year.

Grocery stores have, indeed, taken notice — and action. Here are a few examples:

• Dorothy Lane Market introduced craft beer on draft to two of its three stores — Springboro and Washington Twp. — allowing customers to order a glass of beer for consumption in the store, or to have a glass container filled with draft beer that can be sealed for customers to take home.

And within the next few months, DLM plans to double the number of taps from four to eight at both stores, and will also add eight craft beer taps as part of an upcoming remodel of its Oakwood store, according to Todd Templin, who oversees the beer and wine departments at all three DLM stores.

• Jungle Jim’s Fairfield store a month ago greatly expanded its craft-beer selection, adding hundreds of new beers and a few thousand feet more shelf space devoted to beer, according to Ed Vinson, beer and wine operations manager for Jungle Jim’s.

The store already had installed 16 craft-beer taps last year, and has its own “growler” (resealable 64-ounce glass containers) refill program. Every Friday, Jungle Jim’s invites a representative from the growing number of southwest Ohio breweries to lead a drop-in informal tasting. Since the expansion a month ago, “We’re up 25 percent in beer sales — and for us, that’s huge,” Vinson said.

• Kroger two months ago expanded the hours of operation from 18 hours a week to 40 at the wine bar at its $15 million, 97,000-square-foot Austin Landing store. Now, glasses of wine, as well as bottled craft beers, are available for shoppers seven days a week. A wine-and-food pairing event scheduled for this Tuesday night sold out more than two weeks in advance.

Company officials are closely watching the surge in interest in the wine bar’s beer tastings and wine-and-food events. “It boils down to what our customers want,” Kroger spokeswoman Rachael Betzler said. The Cincinnati-based grocery chain assembles focus groups prior to opening or remodeling stores, “and we try to accommodate requests,” Betzler said. The chain’s larger stores that have on-site chefs offer the opportunity for wine-and-food pairing events, she said.

The timing is right for existing grocery stores to raise their game. The already-robust grocery-store competition in southern Montgomery County and northern Warren County — which includes multiple Kroger and Meijer stores, the three Dorothy Lane Market stores, Sam’s Club, Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s, among others — will soon include the Dayton area’s first Whole Foods store as well as a proposed Costco store. And all those stores sell, or will sell, beer and wine, as do multiple wine bars and wine-and-beer shops in the region.

State officials have helped lay the groundwork for the increasing interest in locally produced beer and wine by easing restrictions and reducing obstacles for breweries and wineries.

In recent years, the Ohio General Assembly has reduced the application fees for start-up microbreweries and made it easier for Ohio-based breweries, wineries and distilleries to serve samples to visitors and to sell their products from their tasting rooms. And last month, Gov. John Kasich signed into law legislation that makes it easier for grocery stores to host tastings, and for the first time, will allow stores to offer beer and wine samples free to customers under certain circumstances.

At Dorothy Lane Market, which has been hosting drop-in wine tastings since at least the mid-1980s, “Beer and wine have always been a huge part of our business, and that continues to grow,” Templin said.

Templin noted the surge of local breweries and brewpubs — about a dozen have either opened or will soon open just in the last two years — mirrors a national trend. “We see the huge interest in that movement, and we see a similar movement in wines,” he said.

“The Dayton community is always keen on educating itself on food, wine, beer and other beverages,” Templin said. “This is one of the most in-tune towns in the Midwest when it comes to wine-tasting.”

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