By James Atkinson

Coles' First Choice Liquor chain has been actively courting independent publicans in a New South Wales regional centre to become their liquor wholesaler. 

Several publicans in Wagga Wagga reported to TheShout that they had all been visited in recent weeks by representatives of the nearby Albury 1st Choice store, an unprecedented occurrence. 

The First Choice reps distributed a generic letter proposing that the pubs join their "growing list of satisfied corporate customers".

An accompanying beer price list obtained by TheShout listed mainstream brands including Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught and Tooheys Extra Draught at fairly routine prices of $79.90 for two case bundles.

This would indicate Coles is not prepared to bend its margins to attract the new business, after walking away from loss-making bulk beer sales last year.

But the move still took the hoteliers, several of whose pubs have bottleshops attached, by surprise.

"I've never been approached by a supermarket to sell to me," one long-serving Wagga publican told TheShout.

"Dan Murphy's is coming to Wagga in about eight months' time. Obviously 1st Choice is trying to get in and develop the relationships beforehand," he suggested.

An industry source told TheShout the development shows Coles is still eager to sell to its independent competitors, "provided it's at the right price".

"They'll want to get back into that market, absolutely," he said. "They'll want the sale, so long as it's profit-making."

A Coles spokeswoman told TheShout the Albury initiative "is an example of local area marketing adopted by some of our stores".

"First Choice stores have always served corporate customers in their local communities including restaurants, businesses and sports clubs," she said.

But the spokeswoman did not comment on whether it was standard practice for First Choice stores to actively market to "corporate customers" whose core business is the retail sale of liquor.

Coles is not prevented from selling to independents by the NSW Liquor Act, which allows packaged liquor licensees "to sell liquor by wholesale, at any time on the licensed premises, to persons authorised to sell liquor (whether by wholesale or by retail)".

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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