Former Kroger CEO David Dillon will chair the Uncork Kansas campaign this legislative session.
The campaign – which has already launched its 2015 effort, weeks before lawmakers get back to Topeka – is trying to change state law to allow the sale of strong beer, wine and liquor in Kansas grocery and convenience stores. The sale of those products is currently restricted to liquor stores in Kansas, with only beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol allowed in grocery stores.
Dillon, a Hutchinson native who is the great-grandson of the founder of Dillon Food Stores and who started his career with the family grocery in Hutchinson, is leaving the Kroger board of directors Dec. 31.
Dillon retired as Kroger CEO last year but remained on the board. He has retirement homes in Hutchinson and the Kansas City area.
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“He’s been very supportive of Uncork efforts (in the past),” said Uncork Kansas spokeswoman Jessica Lucas. “It’s an issue that’s important to him, and important to customers of Dillon stores. He understands customers want to have the option to buy beer, wine and spirits in the grocery store. He cares a lot about the business and the customers it serves, and in retirement he'll continue to help improve stores.”
“I think Mr. Dillon is certainly a highly credible individual,” said Whitney Damron, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association for Responsible Liquor Laws, which opposes the proposed law change. “He’s been very successful in running the company.”
The Uncork Kansas effort, however, Damron said, is part of “a never-ending search for margin and profit” by the nation’s largest grocers.
“They’ve spent literally millions of dollars trying to export profits from this business to Bentonville, Cincinnati and West Des Moines,” he said. “I understand there’s significant pressure for revenues and, by-and-large, they have thin margins. But what they will do for Kansas is what has been done to small-town groceries in every state: It will put them (liquor stores) out of business and they will take their margin and go on down the road.”
“They want all the business in their market area and there’s no room for the little guy,” he said.