Heard & overheard: Sobering news for the spirits industry

If Wal-Mart's smiley face looks a little glassyeyed, there's good reason for it. Having already become the world's biggest seller of groceries, books, toys, CDs, DVDs and jewelry, the retail giant has set its sights now on capturing the hard liquor marketplace.

This might seem an odd choice for a company headquartered in dry county, but according to the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart is working with Diageo, the world's biggest liquor company, in a bid to increase its share of the spirits market. Wal-Mart sold $1 billion worth of alcoholic beverages in 2004 (mostly beer and wine), a mere pittance of its total sales of $285 billion. The WSJ reports that the retailer has set its sights on getting liquor sales up to $5 billion by 2010.

Already some liquor distributors are upgrading their computer systems to be compatible with Wal-Mart's RetailLink inventory management system. The three groups most concerned about the retailer's move into liquor are: small liquor stores, highway safety groups and oenophiles concerned that they'll have to resign themselves to drinking Chinese wine.

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