On March 6, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) in Opinion No. 15-77 shook up the alcoholic beverage industry in Pennsylvania by opining that beer distributors may sell 12-pack cases of beers. This is a bold move in a state that has historically been conservative when it comes to the sale of alcoholic beverages. Unlike many other states, beer and liquor in Pennsylvania are not sold in grocery or convenience stores. Wine and other liquors are sold through the state-run Wine & Spirits stores only. Beer distributors, although not state-run, have historically been limited to selling either 24-pack cases or kegs. Brewers are permitted to sell in quantities less than a 24-pack case at their facilities.
Pennsylvania’s liquor law permits beer distributors to sell “in quantities of not less than a case or original containers containing one hundred twenty-eight ounces or more.” 47 P.S. § 4-431(b) (emphasis added). The term “original container” had previously been thought to include only kegs. The definition of “original container,” however, is technically broader and includes “bottles, casks, kegs or other suitable containers.” The PLCB in Opinion No. 15-77 broadly read the term “original container” within 47 P.S. § 4-431(b) and reasoned that a 12-pack could constitute an “original container” because it would satisfy the section’s 128-ounce requirement for containers.
Although the PLCB’s interpretation may seem like a small step, it increases the scope of what beer distributors may sell and would also permit the sale of various package sizes that satisfy the minimum 128-ounce requirement, such as 18 packs. This will in turn increase competition for shelf space and may broaden customer choice. The Brewers of Pennsylvania, a trade association that includes some of Pennsylvania’s largest and smallest brewers, stated that the PLCB’s interpretation may harm Pennsylvania brewers (see here). For example, the group claims that sale of 18 packs would be permissible under Opinion No. 15-77 and that “foreign-owned, mega-brewers” use 18 packs as “loss leader” packaging. But the Brewers of Pennsylvania claim that Pennsylvania brewers do not have the capabilities to manufacture 18-pack containers, thus placing them at a competitive disadvantage with “mega-brewers.” Although time will tell whether these fears come true, beer makers and distributors alike in Pennsylvania now have greater flexibility in beer packaging.