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Total Wine & More superstore may steer you to its private labels

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: November 4, 2013 - 4:24 PM

In my Sunday story I mentioned that Total Wine & More opens Dec. 5 in Bloomington. A second star opens in Roseville in the spring. Now here's a couple of details that didn't make it into the Sunday story.

Part of Total Wine's success in other markets is its low prices that often beat Costco's. That may not be saying much because Costco's prices are often beaten by competitors' sales prices at Surdyk's and Hennepin Lake Liquors in Minneapolis or Morelli's in St. Paul. In an early price comparison between Costco and Liquor Boy in St. Louis Park that I did a year ago, Liquor Boy was a few pennies to few dollars cheaper than Costco on six of eight items.

Because Total Wine's prices are often even less than Costco, according to reports where the two stores compete, TW doesn't make its profit selling national brands. Liquor Boy owner John Wolf said that Total Wine makes much of its profit from selling private label wines, which are exclusive. Total WIne is large enough to be able to go to wineries or distributors and ask for a special product made and sold exclusively to them.

The advantage of any private label is that no one can compare prices from one retailer to the next. Trader Joe's is the only retailer than sells Charles Shaw, just as Whole Foods exclusively carries Three Wishes  and Total Wine's Pacific Peak.

All three cost about $3 per bottle retail, but how well can each of us judge whether the wine we're quaffing is a $3 or $15 bottle? When it's a private label, it's difficult to discern. I'd be the first to admit that I'm not confident that I could pick the two $3 wines from the two $15 wines if 4 glasses were put in front of me in a blind taste test.

It will be interesting to see if Total Wine sales people seem to steer customers to the private labels instead of the name brands, as some local wine sellers believe.

I also learned that new liquor licenses are nearly impossible to come by in Roseville because the city restricts the number of off-sale liquor licenses to 10 or fewer. Total Wine was able to purchase Network Liquors at 2727 Lexington Ave N. and in effect their license, said Pat Trudgeon, Interim City Manager and Community Development Director.

The Roseville city council will be meeting Nov. 18 to transfer the license to Total Wine from Network, which has already closed.

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