The Thirsty Beagle: Latest players in Oklahoma alcohol reform: Walmart and the initiative petition

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Latest players in Oklahoma alcohol reform: Walmart and the initiative petition

You've probably noticed them in your Facebook and Twitter feeds the past couple weeks: slick-looking ads, graphics and videos for the group Tap Oklahoma.

So, who exactly is Tap Oklahoma?

Their Facebook page touts the group's desire to "modernize the alcohol laws in the state of Oklahoma," and posts say things like "Oklahomans deserve more convenience" and "Save time and simplify your shopping experience."

It's no coincidence that the messaging from Tap Oklahoma includes words like "convenience" and "shopping."

Tap Oklahoma is the catchy name being pushed by the group Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, which in turn is the front representing the interests of Walmart and the state's grocery and convenience stores. 

Tap Oklahoma has been blowing up your feed since the middle of January. Another group has been populating your social media existence since July; you might be familiar with the group Cold Beer Now Oklahoma.

Same deal for them -- catchy graphics and an even slicker looking website. But while Tap Oklahoma's website at least gives a hat tip to Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, Cold Beer Now OK yields no trace of exactly who is behind the site and social media channels.

Alas, perhaps you wouldn't be surprised to know that the entity pushing that website is none other than Anheuser Busch-InBev.

And so it goes in the journey to reform Oklahoma's alcohol laws. We're about to be hit with a huge amount of consumer-friendly rhetoric, most of it condemning Oklahoma for stifling business and being behind the times. We should all recognize where these messages are coming from, because things are about to get really muddy.

There are many people trying to get a piece of the pie here. Several high-level meetings have been underway and will continue this week involving lobbyists and organizers for the likes of Budweiser; Walmart and the state's other big grocery and convenience stores; the state's independent beer distributors represented by the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma; the state's craft brewers; those representing Oklahoma liquor stores; those representing Oklahoma's restaurants and bars; the state's winemaking lobby; and any number of other groups.

Those meetings are only ramping up in intensity now that the state's legislative session has kicked off.

While the hope of many industry insiders is that all these groups can come together and come up with compromise legislation to get a question for alcohol reform on the November election ballot, one or more of the groups is likely to hedge their bets, and they'll be doing it in the form of the initiative petition.

In fact, don't be surprised if you see an initiative petition announced as early as this week by Walmart/Tap Oklahoma/Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom. Most everyone involved would probably like to save the considerable expense required to get signatures for an initiative petition, and instead create a referendum through the legislative process. The lure of taking the initiative petition route is that it allows the likes of Walmart to take a shot at authoring its own version of the language for a state question.

Yet another group -- Oklahomans for Modern Laws -- may also get into the game. Or, get back into the game, more accurately. Oklahomans for Modern Laws has been around since at least 2012, when they attempted to get a measure on the ballot to allow grocery stores in Oklahoma's most populous counties to sell wine. That measure was ultimately withdrawn. Oklahomans for Modern Laws is still around, however, and while they may end up aligning with Walmart and Tap Oklahoma as some in the industry are speculating, they too could introduce their own initiative petition.

And what of Budweiser? I do not have information right now that they are also planning an initiative petition, but it doesn't stretch the imagination that they would end up going that way. Especially considering what one industry insider told me Monday -- that Walmart doesn't necessarily agree with what Budweiser is seeking.

So what is Budweiser seeking? That really is the main catch-point that could prevent all sides from coming to a friendly agreement. Budweiser now is allowed to own its own distributors -- for low-point beer only. They would like to still be allowed to own their own distribution chains when/if Oklahoma goes single-strength. But they are finding little traction in convincing the other players at the table they should have that privilege. 

There's more to the distribution issue, a lot of it tied up in the complex language of Oklahoma's constitution. Unraveling that and then reconstructing it in a way that everyone likes will be difficult.

Almost as difficult as knowing exactly who is blowing up your Facebook feed.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say it would be okay for AB-InBev to own a distributorship provided, thay cannot make their clients sigh non competition agreements and preventing them from ordering from other distributors.