State Casks Aside Wine-vending Machines

Posted: September 21, 2011

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's one-year experiment with wine-vending machines at grocery stores is over, at least for now, because of a financial dispute with the contractor, LCB officials said yesterday.

Monday was the last day to resolve the dispute with contractor Simple Brands LLC and keep the machines operating, and liquor board CEO Joe Conti said he couldn't foresee the program being revived.

The liquor board maintains that Simple Brands owes the state about $1 million, but Simple Brands has disputed that assessment, saying the liquor board had incurred unnecessary expenses and "improperly" billed the company. Simple Brands is seeking $81 million from the agency for breach of contract, Conti said.

"I think it was a great attempt to try to do something for the convenience of our customers," Conti said. "It didn't end up successful, but we learned a lot. We will be better for it, and listen, we had thousands of buyers who predominantly were happy with the convenience when they bought a bottle of wine through these kiosks."

The machines started going into grocery stores around the state last summer, including in Warrington, Downingtown, and Easton, but encountered problems from the start. In recent months, both Wal-mart and Wegmans pulled out of agreements to host the machines, citing "mechanical concerns" and too many customer complaints.

The move to halt the program comes amid an effort by Gov. Corbett and some GOP state lawmakers to end state control over wine and liquor sales. Meanwhile, the LCB is trying to expand its "store within a store" concept, and is discussing it with Wal-Mart, Conti said.

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