Retail Customers Shop And Sip

Off-premise outlets benefit from letting patrons try products as they peruse the aisles.

At Fields Foods in St. Louis (pictured), shopping carts are equipped with glass holders that allow clientele to sample beer while walking through the store.
At Fields Foods in St. Louis (pictured), shopping carts are equipped with glass holders that allow clientele to sample beer while walking through the store.

Horrocks Farm Market has found the perfect way to get beer shoppers to linger a little longer. The two-unit specialty grocer—which has locations in Lansing and Battle Creek, Michigan—allows customers to stroll the aisles with a beer in hand and browse its 1,500-brew selection. “Our customers love it,” says Dan Dunn, general manager of the Horrocks store in Lansing. “Since we started letting customers drink and shop, sales have gone up.”

A growing number of retailers are taking this creative approach to in-store sampling and have discovered that the ability to “shop and sip” outside a designated sampling area or bar space creates a relaxed, unrushed environment. “At most liquor stores, people walk in, make a purchase and are out the door—you don’t get to know them,” says Issa Khoury, owner of Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits in Las Vegas. The store has an on-premise beer and wine license, allowing customers to sample one of 11 rotating draft beers ($5 to $6 a 16-ounce pint). It gives them a reason to hang around, Khoury explains. Shoppers can also sample brews from the store’s 18-foot wall of beer singles, which range from $1.99 for a 32-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon to $25.99 for a 750-ml. bottle of Cascade Brewing’s Sang Noir American wild ale.

“In our Lansing store, guests can even walk through the nursery and garden center with their beers,” says Dunn of Horrocks, which added tavern licenses for beer and wine two years ago. The stores offer up to 30 draft brews ($5 to $10 a 12-ounce pour). Earlier this year, the Lansing location received permission to sell bottled beer for on-site consumption. Most brews are priced between $1.99 and $3.99 a 12-ounce bottle, plus a small corkage fee.

Fields Foods, a specialty grocer based in St. Louis, opened two years ago with a wine and beer bar. Customers can cruise the aisles with one of six different draft brews ($3 to $6 a 14-ounce pour) or a bottle or can ($2 to $3 for 12 ounces). “Our shopping carts are equipped with a holder for pint glasses and stemless wine glasses,” says Fields wine, beer and spirits manager Steve Rutherford.

Larger stores are also tapping into the trend. Whole Foods has numerous locations across the country where customers can shop and sip. Some of its locations in Texas showcase cold cans of beer in buckets labeled “Walkin’ Around Beer.” The upscale grocer also positions racks at the end of aisles for empty pint glasses. A Whole Foods location in Houston even features its own craft brewery and an in-store delivery tricycle that brings beer to guests throughout the store.

This shop-and-sip concept is creating a dedicated customer base for many retailers. “Customers spend more time here than if we didn’t allow them to sample,” Khoury says. “They’re surprised to learn they can have a beer while they shop, and they often comment that they can’t do that in other liquor stores.”

Retailers see few disadvantages to this merchandising technique. “The only drawback is that we have to stay open a little longer,” Khoury says. Rutherford from Fields Foods notes that he’s never had issues with people drinking too much. “I’m surprised this practice hasn’t become more widespread,” he says. “It’s been working well for us.” Rutherford and Dunn say that broken glasses or bottles in the aisles haven’t been a problem either. “The bartenders break more glasses than the customers do,” Dunn says.