Bloomberg reported this morning on Walmart’s latest attempt to stimulate customer traffic. Months after the company kicked things off with an “adult beverage summit” (which apparently is not just a clever euphemism for a trip to the bar!), the company is seriously pushing sales of booze—beer in particular. Chief Merchandising Officer Duncan MacNaughton has said that the company wants to double its alcohol sales by 2016. In support of that goal, Walmart has hired more alcohol buyers and is putting more alcohol on display in its stores (and apparently is even stashing beer in stores’ garden centers).
Walmart has kept its booze plans hush-hush; some Wall Street analysts who cover Walmart hadn’t even heard about it. That might reflect the company’s complicated attitude toward drinking and alcohol. Sam Walton wasn’t a big fan of drinking, and until recently the company had internal policies that forbade alcohol consumption at company events and banned the promotion of alcohol in advertising circulars. Past efforts to expand alcohol sales met resistance from store managers. Yet the alcohol outlook appears to be changing; Walmart-sponsored events can now serve alcohol, and just last fall, two of Sam Walton’s grandsons poured nearly $600,000 of their inherited Walmart wealth into a successful effort to overturn dry laws in the county where Walmart is headquartered.
Time will tell whether Walmart’s venture into big-time alcohol-hawking becomes fruitful. The good news for Walmart is that, in the midst of chronic store understaffing and problems keeping shelves stocked, distributors are keeping beer shelves full! Hey, take small victories where you can find them. But how will amplified beer and alcohol sales play with Walmart customers who are long accustomed to Walmart being, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, “an arbiter of social mores” that has banned albums with lyrics or cover art it didn’t like? And as the company seeks to expand into urban areas, will beefed-up alcohol sales provide another reason for citizens to object to proposed new Walmart stores, just as its gun and ammunition sales have provided ample fodder for Walmart opponents?