California C-Stores Could Soon Stock Premade Cocktails

Lawmakers debate a bill that would make RTD spirits drinks widely available in the state.

March 03, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—California lawmakers are entertaining the possibility of making it easier for convenience stores to stock premade cocktails, North Bay Business Journal reports.

Today, ready-to-drink beverages that are beer-, malt- or wine-based, such as White Claw, may be sold at c-stores. But RTD spirits drinks like Gallo’s High Noon, which is vodka-based, can only be sold in stores with a spirits license.

“I think with the popularity of these products skyrocketing, consumers want choices. Small mom-and-pop stores that traditionally only are able to sell wine and beer would like to sell these,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa). “These products are in the same wheelhouse as wine and beer in terms of low alcohol and ready to drink. They have less alcohol by volume than wine and some beer, and less sugar on average.”

Dodd's bill, Senate Bill 277, is expected to be heard this month by the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which Dodd chairs. The legislation would broaden the RTD rules so that businesses with only a beer and wine sales license, like gas station mini-marts and small grocery stores, could sell cans or bottles of premade spirits cocktails that have 10% or less alcohol by volume and are in containers no larger than 16 ounces.

Data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (Discus) shows that beer and wine RTDs are available at more than 28,000 stores in California. Spirits RTDs with similar or lower alcohol-by-volume levels may be bought at roughly 14,000 outlets.

A recent survey by Discus found that consumers wanted greater access to spirits-based RTDs, including at grocery and convenience stores, with 86% agreeing that these products should be sold where beer and wine are available to buy, notes The Spirits Business.

There are currently 143,000 jobs in California supported by the spirits industry, generating more than $16.67 billion in state economic activity annually, according to Discus.

2022 was a landmark year for sales of spirits. After 13 years of gains, spirits overtook beer in total U.S. sales.

In the convenience retail channel, sales of prepared and RTD cocktails continue to be a boon for retailers, outpacing all other channels in sales and units sold across the first half of 2022 year over year, according to “Cocktail Convenience” in the October issue of NACS Magazine.

Prepared and RTD cocktail sales in convenience increased from $206.1 million in the first half of 2021 to $280.5 million in the first half of 2022, a gain of 36.1%, NACS State of the Industry data indicate. In comparison, sales of those same subcategories improved by 11.0% in all other channels across the same year-over-year period.