SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Sales of flavored malt beverages in Utah have dramatically declined since the drinks were restricted to state-controlled liquor stores.
Since lawmakers removed fruity drinks like Zima and Seagram's Fuzzy Navel from grocery and convenience stores in October 2008, sales have dropped more than 90 percent. State stores have an 86 percent markup on the drinks.
State fiscal analysts had predicted a decline in sales, but the estimate was far less than the actual loss.
The state expected to lose about $137,000 each year after the ban, but that would supposedly be offset by added taxes charged at state stores. But none of the added taxes has exceeded what was collected in grocery store sales.
Sales taxes on the flavored beverages also dropped — from $604,700 before the ban to $72,280 in fiscal year 2009. Tax revenues have declined to $45,900 this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Lawmakers said the beverages should be restricted to state outlets — where they are sold unrefrigerated — to keep them away from those not old enough to drink.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he sponsored the legislation "because I have seen what these drinks can do to kids."
Utah is home to some of the nation's strictest liquor laws, a byproduct of a predominantly Mormon population. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells its members not to drink and is highly influential among lawmakers.
In 2008, some Senate Republicans suggested banning the sale of refrigerated beer — the only alcohol that's still sold in grocery stores and convenience stores — but eventually decided against it.
There are already no refrigerators allowed in state liquor stores.
Despite the substantial decline, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Deputy Director of Operations John Freeman said sales of malt beverages are slowly picking back up at the state's 140 liquor stores.
Freeman said establishments are stocking a variety of brands, including Mike's, Parrot Bay and Smirnoff.
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