NASHVILLE -- Armed with a $900,000 war chest, grocery stores are blitzing television, radio and social media across Tennessee this week with ads aimed at persuading voters in 78 municipalities to say yes to allowing wine sales in food stores.
Red, White and Food, the organization behind the effort, is spending nearly $72,000 of that alone to air 15-second and 30-second spots on the four major network affiliates in Chattanooga between Wednesday and the Nov. 4 election.
That's according to a Times Free Press review of Federal Communications Commission public file disclosures for WRCB-TV, WTVC-TV, WDEF-TV and WDSI.
Most of the television ads begin Wednesday, the first day of early voting in Tennessee, and continue through the Nov. 4 election.
Locally, referendums on allowing wine sales in grocery stores are on the ballot for voters living in Chattanooga, Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank and Signal Mountain.
"The ads serve two purposes," said Susie Alcorn, Red White and Food's campaign manager, in a news release. "First, the ads create awareness that the question of whether to allow wine in retail food stores is now with the voters. Second, and importantly, we are asking people to Vote For Wine."
The ads feature food-store shoppers, many of them with children in tow, looking for wine and confused because they can't find wine on shelves.
"We're busy people," a voiceover says in one ad as a series of shoppers ask, "where's the wine?"
Using pleasant, well-dressed actors, the ads seek to emphasize the idea of responsible adults casually and conveniently being able to pick up a bottle of wine along with their regular list of shopping items.
Grocery store chain representatives said last week they are a little nervous about the wine question's placement on the ballot. Voters are likely to see the yes/no question at the end of a lengthy roster including contests for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state Legislature and four proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution.
The local referendums' journey to the voting booth took some seven years amid fierce opposition from the state's powerful liquor store and liquor-distributors' industry, as well as some lawmakers who oppose the spread of alcohol generally.
Ironically, it took a powerful Republican teetotaler from Northeast Tennessee, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, to muscle the measure through. While he doesn't drink himself, Ramsey has said he knows people who do and are simply crossing the state border into Virginia to buy wine in grocery stores.
It's the same situation in Chattanooga, where consumers can step across the border into Georgia and buy wine at grocery stores.
Liquor store owners, who in a compromise on the bill were allowed to begin selling beer and party-related items last summer, remain opposed. Even in communities where wine-in-grocery-stores sales are approved, the stores can't sell a single bottle until mid-2016.
Meanwhile, the liquor industry managed to insert a provision into the law mandating a stiff 20 percent markup from the wholesale to retail price of wine.
The Red, White and Food group -- the "red" and "white" refer to wine -- last week provided a copy of its single-measure financial statement for the third quarter at the Times Free Press' request.
It shows the group started with zero dollars but quickly received $900,000 from major grocery store chains.
Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger Inc. was the largest contributor, giving $400,000. K-VA-T, an Abingdon, Va.-based chain located next to Ramsey's district, gave $212,000. Publix, which has a presence in Chattanooga, gave $150,000. Bi-Lo Holdings Inc., which has a heavy presence in Chattanooga, contributed $68,000.
Salisbury, N.C.-based Delhaize America Inc., which operates Food Lion among other grocery stores, put in $50,000, while Memphis-based Stepherson's Superlo Foods gave $20,000, according to the disclosure.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.