By James Wigderson for Media Trackers
A law that is supposed to protect “mom and pop” grocery stores is now being used by one of the largest independently held convenience store chains in the country as a marketing tool to sell more beer.
Kwik Trip, a gas station and convenience store chain with more than 500 locations in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, is advertising at several of their locations they are selling beer at “the lowest legal limit.” They may be right about the law setting their beer prices.
Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Act, commonly known as the minimum markup law, requires retailers to sell most goods at cost plus transportation, no less. Alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel, obviously products sold at Kwik Trip store, are marked up three percent at the wholesale level, and then six percent at the retail level for alcohol and tobacco. Motor fuel is required to be sold at a 9.18 percent minimum markup at the retail level.
However, it’s ironic Kwik Trip is telling customers they’re selling beer at the lowest price legally possible, as if they wish they could sell it cheaper, when Kwik Trip actually has their lobbyist at the state Capitol in Madison fight to keep the Unfair Sales Act unchanged.
Besides the irony, Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), a supporter of repealing the minimum markup law and reforming the state’s liquor laws, explained in an email statement why Kwik Trip’s position on the Unfair Sales Act is anti-consumer.
“The fact that Wisconsin is one of the only states that prescribe specific percentage mark ups on both beer and gas is anti-free market,” Kooyenga said. “The socialist minimum markup law that has now survived eight years of GOP control has to be eliminated. Wisconsin residents are paying more for the gas to get to work, and for the well deserved beer following work, because of the law. It’s simply wrong.”
Emails to Kwik Trip’s lobbyist and public relations regarding the low-cost beer advertising campaign went unanswered. However, defenders of the Unfair Sales Act have claimed in the past that the law protects small businesses from predatory pricing by larger companies. That claim was debunked by a study conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty in 2017.
Yet Kwik Trip, despite its size, has punished its competition for lower gas prices with complaints to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), the state agency in charge of enforcing the Unfair Sales Act.
The complaints by Kwik Trip against its competition are similar to those filed against Meijer by other grocery stores in 2016 when the Michigan-based grocery store chain entered the market. Meijer soon found out that they couldn’t offer low introductory prices on coffee and milk lest it run afoul of the law and get fined by the DATCP.
Kwik Trip is so jealous of protecting the Unfair Sales Act from any modification, the convenience store chain even lobbied against a bill introduced by Sen. Leah Vukmir to eliminate the minimum markup for prescription drugs even though they are not (yet) operating pharmacies in their stores. The bill received a public hearing but was never put to a vote in the Wisconsin Senate.
Despite the ironic nature of the sale, the Kwik Trip chain continues to promise cheap(er) beer to its customers. Unfortunately for consumers, Kwik Trip also continues to fight against even lower beer prices, and low prices on everything else.