Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

When you think of Walmart, you feel quite sure what it stands for. Don't you?

It's all about everyday low prices, value, convenience, and a little less inventiveness than Target.

Walmart appears to be embroiled in a superheroic battle against Amazon -- I'm fully expecting Walmart to buy a news organization any day now -- but it's all about low prices, online shopping, same-day delivery, and pandering to the increasingly lazy, shut-in nature of Americans.

Isn't it?

How odd, then, that the supermarket chain is making a change that isn't quite what you might expect. It's choosing to stock more upscale alcohol.

No, you don't automatically associate Walmart with the finer things in life. However, the chain's VP of adult beverages, Jason Fremstad, told Business Insider customers want to enjoy these slightly finer things. They want something, well, heavier than Coors Light, Bud Light, and Miller, um, Lite.

Fremstad explained: 

There's been a significant shift in our assortment this year to make sure that we are not just taking care of our customers with all the core offerings they expect, but really getting into that premium and innovative assortment that we're really not known for at this point.

He specifically mentioned hard seltzers, local craft beers, and canned wine. In addition, there'll be slightly more chi-chi wines and spirits than the norm, such as Decoy and Justin wines -- the latter is owned by the Wonderful Company, the people who bring you Fiji water -- Veuve Clicquot champagne, and Buffalo Trace bourbon.

There's talk of tequila, too. Fancy tequila.

For Walmart, this will surely offer a certain elevation of its brand image, though some may argue it's not (necessarily? yet?) such an image-enhancer for a finer wine brand to be seen in a supermarket like Walmart.

(Please let me interject a secret. Some wineries allow their names to be placed on cheaper varieties of wine and distributed to extremely mass-market locales, but have no role in actually making that wine.)

Once Walmart is seen to be offering something a little more alluring in the alcohol aisle, will customers expect a slight drift upscale in other aisles?

It's fascinating how the company has experimented in the slightly-better-alcohol arena. Last year, Walmart released some lower-priced wines -- under its own label -- and claimed they tasted like $40 bottles. I tried them. Some did. 

Perhaps the chain increasingly realizes its customers have far more variegated tastes than it had previously assumed.

Why not go shopping for cheap groceries and treat yourself to a little something special? It's the reverse of people who don't have too much money walking into Burberry and buying just one little scarf. 

Customers aren't monolithic. Because people aren't. Elevating its alcohol offering is likely to have a positive image effect for Walmart -- and offer an extra avenue for online ordering and delivery.

Of course, one thing that's currently unclear is how much Walmart might charge for these more exalted items. After all, margins in retail are crucial.

Published on: Jan 5, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.