$2.99 Southern Point Wine from...Walgreens

It's called Southern Point, retails for $2.99, and you can only get it at Walgreens. Oh, and it's as good as any $10 to $12 wine in recent memory.

Yes, Walgreens.

America's largest retail drugstore brought wine and beer back to its shelves earlier this year, ending a nearly 15-year sales ban. The company hopes the decision will raise market share without affecting its community-friendly image.

If recent alcohol sales figures are any indication, the timing could not have been better. Americans in a recession may be staying home more often, but they are not cutting back on the booze. While sales of alcohol in bars and restaurants ("on-premise") have been in a slump, "off-premise" sales have seen a boom, and enterprising business owners have taken the opportunity to balance slumping retail sales. According to Nielsen, the national number of off-premise beer vendors increased by 2,600, while wine sellers rose by over 3,000 between September 2008 and October 2009.

The Southern Point line, one of several exclusive private labels currently available at Walgreens, features a Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot that are quickly gaining press and popularity. When I mentioned Southern Point to a friend who knows wine, she said she'd tried it and thought it was fantastic. My thoughts exactly.

It was reported earlier this year that Walgreens is in talks with major food distributors including Nestle SA, Unilever NV, and Sara Lee Corp. to create private-label freshly prepared pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and ready-made meals targeting the time-crunched modern consumer on a budget.

Target, currently the nation's second-largest discount retail store, is taking the one-stop shopping model even further and plans to open 350 locations under the name P.F Fresh by the end of the year, offering produce, meat, and freshly prepared meals and specialty items.

The battle of the discount stores to be the most "convenient" or offer the lowest prices may inevitably lead to locations that have their own zip codes and shopping carts the size of Cadillacs, but when you swing by your neighborhood Walgreens to pick up your prescription for Valium, you can also grab a decent bottle of red for $2.99 (and perhaps a Snuggie or a ShamWow!). That's community-friendly, indeed.

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