Audit: Utah liquor stores not selling fast enough

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wine, beer and spirits are not flying off the shelves of Utah state liquor stores as often as officials had hoped, according to a report released Tuesday by Utah's state auditor.

The report presented to Utah's liquor control board Tuesday morning shows that from mid-2012 to early 2014, only 13 of 44 stores met a goal of selling and restocking all inventory every month.

In the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray, 90 percent of the inventory is sold at least once a month. In the southwestern Utah city of Hurricane, with about 14,500 people, the state liquor store sells only 40 percent of its inventory every month.

Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had set the inventory goal to cut the cost of holding products.

The audit released Tuesday is part of new routine oversight of the alcohol agency following reports of mismanagement several years ago.

Audits in 2011 found years of mismanagement at the agency and led to the firing or resignation of seven top department executives.

The new report from Utah State Auditor John Dougall found no major concerns and zeroed in managing store inventories and cutting employee turnover at state liquor stores.

Dougall's office suggested liquor officials tailor their inventories to meet consumer demands and maximize space.

For example, liquor stores could receive high-demand products twice a week instead of once week and cut their stock of products that aren't selling as fast.

Dougall's office said selling the entire inventory every month is a reasonable goal, though they noted other industries, such as grocery stores, don't sell their inventories as quickly.

DABC director Sal Petilos said that since the auditor's review wrapped up in February, the liquor department has retooled their ordering system.

Petilos said 31 stores now meet the goal, which they may adjust need to adjust for stores such as the Hurricane location.

Jay Yahne with The Hive Winery in Layton said officials shouldn't focus solely on how fast products move through the stores.

"That means that you're only going to sell discount, mass-produced alcohol in Utah," he told The Associated Press. "If you go to our liquor stores, most of what we sell is mass-produced, not artisan products."

Yahne said craft products like his local wine are more expensive and don't sell as quickly.

With small-scale production and taxes and fees imposed by Utah, Yahne said local wineries and distilleries can't compete with the prices offered by big, out-of-state brands such as Robert Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson or Jim Beam.

David Gladwell, chairman of the DABC governing commission, said officials don't want to waste store space but are sensitive to the concerns of Utah makers of wine and spirits.

"They're a little higher end and aren't going to turn over quite as well, but they're outstanding products and somewhat in demand, not maybe as high as cheaper products."

Gladwell said the agency tries to balance high demand with specialty preferences, and that's why they allow special orders where customers can request a case of an item not stocked in state stores.

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