LCB's in-house wines get best shelf positions, records show
Walk into many state Wine & Spirits stores, and it's hard to miss TableLeaf wines.
And that's just the way the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board wants it, according to documents obtained by the Tribune-Review under the state's Right to Know Law.
TableLeaf wines, the LCB's controversial flagship in-house brand, are nearly always displayed in some of the best sales positions in stores, according to agency marketing directives to its store managers about where various products should be located.
TableLeaf wines garnered the No. 1 sales position in many stores in 13 of the product's first 20 months on the market, documents show. The brand earned one of the top five spots 17 times from March 2011 through October 2012, accounting for more top placements than any other brand during that period, records show.
Marketing experts say store position is crucial to a product's success, and they question the agency's motives, given that the LCB does not make a larger profit on its private-label items than on other brands.
TableLeaf is one of eight in-house brands of wine and spirits started by the LCB. Two other in-house brands, Dialed In and LA MERIKA, each earned top floor placements for seven months during their first year in stores.
Earlier this year, LCB Chairman Joseph E. “Skip” Brion began an internal investigation into how the in-house products were brought to market.
Larry Shapiro, founder of Grape Consulting, a Dallas-based wine and spirits and restaurant consulting firm, called the LCB's treatment of its in-house brands “spiteful marketing.”
“That makes no sense,” Shapiro said. “If (the LCB) is not making any additional revenue off of the brands that are their house brands, then it makes absolutely no sense for them to be positioning those items in any better position than they'd position anybody else's items.”
LCB officials construct monthly marketing calendars that rank products for each group, or cluster, of stores. Stores are grouped in clusters based on what products sell well there and the demographics of potential shoppers, said LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.
The top five wines and top five spirits on the marketing calendar are guaranteed spots on prized floor displays for each store in the cluster. Stores also can choose to display products with lower rankings from the list on their sales floors, Kriedeman said.
LCB officials would not answer questions regarding which stores are assigned to each cluster or the criteria used to determine top floor positions and forced the Tribune-Review to file a Right to Know Law request, which is pending with the agency.
But sales figures show that products in top positions are not always top sellers.
TableLeaf white zinfandel in 750-milliliter bottles spent five months in top-five positions in its first year on store shelves, yet it ranked last of four wines in its category. The 1.5-liter size earned six months in a top-five position, but ranks ninth out of 10 in its category, according to sales figures through Oct. 28 provided by the LCB.
TableLeaf moscato and sweet red, which debuted in February, each spent seven months in the top five positions, though the 1.5-liter moscato ranked nine of 10 and the sweet red 750-milliliter size ranked last.
TableLeaf's 17 top-five placements outpaced Yellow Tail wines, a best-seller out of Australia, which earned 10 top-five positions, records show. Dialed In and LA MERIKA tied for the fifth most top positions.
“When we get new products, we do want to give them prominent placement so consumers take note of them,” Kriedeman said.
The LCB expects to debut an end-cap display (at the end of an aisle) in about 100 stores early next year that will feature six to eight new products each month, she said.
“We have a responsibility to sell the product (the in-house brands) as long as we have product available. Promoting the product helps us do that,” she added.
Diagrams of state store shelves, obtained under the state's Right to Know Law, indicate the LCB's in-house brands also garnered eye-level shelf space in most regular shelving configurations in 2012, once again considered a prime spot by marketing experts.
Many in-house products are stocked on the top shelf of a three-shelf unit or the second shelf of a four- or five-shelf unit, diagrams show.
“Generally, the premiere selling position is where people's eyes go first,” said Cait Poynor Lamberton, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh.
Lamberton said placing a new or weaker brand at eye level may get that product consideration in consumers' mind and build brand awareness.
“It might take awhile before that translates to sales,” Lamberton said. “Potentially, there's a substantial advantage to building a brand, but it's going to happen over time.”
Audrey Guskey, an associate marketing professor at Duquesne University, said the LCB has undertaken “a very aggressive strategy” for marketing their products in stores.
“Placement is absolutely critical,” Guskey said. “They obviously have thought through this. They're purposely doing this to increase sales, and they can do that.”
Kriedeman said it should be noted that profits — whether from in-house labels or other brands — are funneled into the state's general fund to pay for essential services for citizens.
Still, some critics decry the placements as unfair.
“Competing for shelf space with government is certainly not what free enterprise is all about,” said Jay Ostrich, spokesman for the conservative Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation.
“They can rationalize an anti-consumer, anti-business measure all they like, but this just underscores why there needs to be last call for government-sold alcohol.”
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Kari Andren to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- East Coast communities drenched by deadly storms
- Wolf’s 320-mile trip amid travel ban ripped
- Senator Casey supports substance abuse bills
- I-84 exit in northeast Pa. to be renamed for slain trooper
- Erie Zoo’s lynx triplets on display, first cubs since 1971
- Kane fans nepotism concerns; sister reportedly promoted, got raise
- Pennsylvania state liquor stores plan lottery for limited releases
- Woman dies in three-vehicle crash in Greene County
- Penn State coin toss will omit alumnus linked to Sandusky’s charity