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Alle-Kiski distributors caught off guard about 12-pack sales

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Monday, March 9, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

Beer lovers shouldn't expect to find 12-packs for sale at beer distributors right away, despite a state Liquor Control Board legal opinion saying such sales are allowed.

Alle-Kiski Valley area distributors said they were caught off guard by the advisory opinion released Friday by the Office of the Chief Counsel of the state LCB.

Although eager to satisfy customers, some said changing their operations to sell 12-packs will mean more work and that they've been advised not to start selling beer in such quantity until they get clarification of the agency's decision.

Distributors can't sell beer in 12-packs until they get them that way from brewers; a case consisting of two 12-packs, for instance, can't legally be broken up and sold separately, according to the LCB.

“It would be a lot more work and a lot more packaging,” said Sean Robertson, warehouse manager for Hillcrest Beer Distributing in Lower Burrell. “Our inventory would have to change a lot, and we'd have to add to our inventory tremendously — pretty much doubling what we have now.

“We're open to change,” Robertson said. “Whatever we have to do to keep the customer happy, that's our goal.”

The legal advisory came after a Monroeville brewery last July asked if it could sell 12-packs under the state's liquor code and regulations.

Two beer distributors had recently made similar requests.

Under the liquor code, breweries and distributors can sell malt or brewed beverages to the public by the case or in “original containers containing at least 128 fluid ounces.” A 12-pack of 12-ounce cans or bottles would total 144 fluid ounces, exceeding that requirement and being permissible for a brewery to market and resell it to distributors.

“Practically, this advisory opinion clarifies existing law by informing brewers that they may sell ‘original containers' as long as the container contains at least 128 fluid ounces, for example a 12-pack, to distributors that may be resold ‘as is' to consumers,” the opinion states. “No modifications to existing inventory held by distributors and importing distributors is allowed.”

LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said the opinion clarifies existing law.

“This was the first time a brewer had asked this specific question, in this specific way,” she said.

Distributors would not be allowed to break up a case that consists of two 12-packs, Kriedeman said.

“It has to come from the brewery in the original package,” she said. “The original package can't be altered.”

Nick Hartle, owner of Spaniel Beer Distribution in Vandergrift, said he won't sell 12-packs until he gets clarification, following advice he said he received from the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, a trade association.

“I've been in this business a long time,” he said. “I scratch my head every time something comes out of Harrisburg.”

Once he knows he can sell 12-packs, Hartle said he'll be “happy to do so.”

Distributors Association President Tom Mehaffie said the group's attorney is reviewing the opinion “to make sure we're following the letter of the law.”

How soon distributors will be able to get 12-packs for sale depends on the manufacturers producing them that way, which he said, “doesn't happen over night.”

“Some manufacturers may hop on this very quickly and others may take a little bit of time,” he said. “Those that don't make 12-packs may have to buy packaging if they choose to sell that way. It's in the hands of the manufacturers.

“The consumers are the ultimate winners in this,” Mehaffie said. “Consumers have been asking for package reform for years at beer distributors. We're excited to give our consumer what they want.”

Sam Lombardo, owner of Sam's Pop & Beer Shop in Arnold, said 12-pack sales will be “wonderful” for the consumer, but will mean work on his end to reconfigure his store, which is set up to handle cases.

“I'd like to let it sink in. It's going to mean a lot of changes,” he said. “It's going to be good for the micro-brews that people would like to sample.”

Lombardo said the decision could also help distributors compete with grocers that are now selling beer.

“We're normally always cheaper purchasing a full case,” he said. “I imagine we'll be just as competitive if not more competitive selling 12-packs.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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