E-Malt. E-Malt.com News article: USA, OK: Change in Oklahoma beer laws may force AB InBev out of the state

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E-Malt.com News article: USA, OK: Change in Oklahoma beer laws may force AB InBev out of the state
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A provision to a bill looking to change Oklahoma's beer laws could force Anheuser-Busch out of the state, Kswo.com reported on February 18.

State legislators are currently discussing a bill that would allow the sale of wine and high point beer in Oklahoma grocery stores and gas stations. The bill would also not allow distribution centers to be owned by manufacturers, essentially forcing Anheuser-Busch to sell their distribution centers in Lawton, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

The Lawton Anheuser-Busch distributor wasn’t available for comment, but executives at Anheuser-Busch say if the bill passes, it would affect about 700 people statewide.

In a phone interview after meetings at the Oklahoma Capitol, Eric James, the senior director of marketing and sales for Anheuser-Busch sales of Oklahoma, says he believes the provision is targeting Anheuser-Busch.

"The way the language is written now, it specifically impacts us. At this time, there are no other business entities that would be essentially legislated out of business in the state," James said.

James says if the provision stays on the bill, the company would be forced to sell their distributors in the next five years, leaving the fate of the employees, including those in Lawton, in the hands of someone else.

"Anytime there's a change in ownership, it leads to uncertainty. It would be a significant disruption to our 700 employees and their families, and a disruption to the market place, too. For our retail partners and for consumers as well to have such a significant change," James said.

The provision is attached to a bill aimed at modernizing Oklahoma alcohol sales.

"Really, the primary focus is on allowing full-strength beer to be available in grocery stores and convenience stores, and the bill also includes provisions for allowing the sale of wine in convenience stores and grocery stores," James explained.

James says they are unsure of why the provision that would force them to sell is even on the bill.

"When you boil it down, this provision is not necessary and is not related to modernization in any way. We view it more as a special interest measure for certain individuals within the industry that would benefit from market disruption because again, this has nothing to do with modernization," James said.

James says it's still too far in the future to know if Anheuser-Busch would pull their products out of Oklahoma stores, but says if the provision is passed with the bill, it will definitely mean big changes for Oklahoma.

19 February, 2016

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