Growing Regulatory Focus on ‘Crossover Alcohol Products’

By on July 10, 2024

As more companies – including businesses with and without experience producing alcoholic beverages – move to leverage their brands and brand equity across the beverage spectrum, regulators, trade associations and the companies themselves are focusing on ways to responsibly label, advertise, market and display these products to avoid consumer confusion and potential sales to minors.

Crossover alcohol products are generally categorized as alcohol beverages that use the products and intellectual property (e.g., brand names, logos) of a preexisting non-alcohol brand. While not legally defined (yet), such products include Dunkin’ Spiked Original Iced Coffee, Eggo Brunch in a Jar, Lipton Hard Iced Tea and SunnyD Vodka Seltzer, among others. As illustrated by these examples, products such as Lipton Hard Iced Tea leverage the non-alcoholic Lipton Iced Tea branding for a new product in the alcohol space.

As crossover alcohol products have become more prevalent across the market, state regulators have started taking notice and providing guidance to alcohol producers as to how to assure these products are not “false or misleading,” as defined by alcohol regulations, or tend to induce minors to drink the alcoholic product either through the products’ labels, packaging or store-display locations. The Commonwealth of Virginia, in particular, has taken the lead through the issuance of Circular Letter 23-01, which provides guidelines for alcohol producers as they develop these products. These guidelines focus on the following, among other issues:

  • Ensuring that the crossover product clearly indicates the type of alcohol it contains, with such information visible in at least three to six different locations.
  • Ensuring that the sizes of the alcohol references and warnings are sufficiently large and noticeable in comparison to other writings on the product label.
  • Ensuring that any and all changes to product labels, containers and secondary packaging clearly distinguish the crossover products from the original non-alcoholic products so as to prevent consumer confusion; such changes may involve the color palette, font type, imagery, placement of words, images and descriptions, or background elements.
  • Ensuring that secondary closures, such as foil lids, plastic wrapping, lip guards, stickers or other “child-proof” packaging, are present, to prevent accidental consumption by a minor.

Recently, a coalition including the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), FMI – The Food Industry Association, and the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) (representing the three tiers of the industry: suppliers, wholesalers and retailers), issued a joint commitment related to the responsible marketing and merchandising of crossover alcohol products. Similar to Virginia’s guidance, the coalition is focused on assuring that these products are not confused for their non-alcohol counterparts and do not appeal to those under the legal purchase age, based on the appeal of the underlying brand. Accordingly, the coalition looks to alcohol producers to commit to responsible production, packaging and marketing of crossover alcohol products by:

  • Adhering to responsible advertising codes, such as the Distilled Spirits Council Code, to ensure these products are packaged and marketed appropriately and responsibly.
  • Creating product packaging and branding that is clearly and easily distinguishable from non-alcohol beverage counterparts.
  • Providing sufficient and clear notice, through product labeling and packaging, that the product contains alcohol.
  • Focusing on packaging and advertising campaigns that appeal to and target adults of legal drinking age, not individuals under the age of 21.

Taken together, this guidance creates an initial outline of steps companies can take to assure that such crossover products are marketed and sold responsibly and without violating applicable alcohol beverages laws and industry codes.

Alva C. Mather
Alva Mather is the global head of McDermott’s Regulatory Practice Group and a member of the Firm’s Management Committee, and heads the Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Practice. As a nationally recognized go-to lawyer for alcohol beverage regulatory, commercial and M&A matters, clients say that Alva “comes to the situation with clear leadership and strong knowledge of the food and beverage industry.” She combines her extensive knowledge of the commercial and legal landscape as well as deep understanding of the beverage industry to help clients mitigate risk, respond to challenges, and capture and pursue new business opportunities. Read Alva Mather's full bio.