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Arthur (Art) J. DeCelle focuses his practice on advising alcohol beverage companies in commercial transactions, advertising and marketing, regulatory and excise tax compliance, and effective participation in legal and public policy debates at all levels of government. Read Art DeCelle's full bio.

Arthur DeCelle wrote this bylined article describing how brewers can use product labels, point of sale (POS) advertising, social networks, and other media to tell customers about their environmental responsibility efforts. Such information “must be truthful and substantiated by evidence [and] must not be deceptive to reasonable consumers,” Mr. DeCelle wrote, urging brewers to “carefully consider the language you use and any potential for consumer deception [regarding] false or deceptive environmental claims.”

Read the full article.

Originally published in New Brewer, March/April 2017.

On March 13, the European Commission approved a report that calls on members of the alcohol beverage industry to develop a comprehensive self-regulatory system of ingredient and nutritional labeling for beer, wine, and distilled spirits. The Commission is composed of representatives of each member nation of the European Union (EU) with a range of administrative responsibilities and authority to develop and propose legislation for consideration by the European Parliament.

The European Commission characterizes access to ingredient and nutrition information as a right of EU consumers, and called on industry members to develop a self-regulatory proposal over the next year. Current EU policy on alcohol beverage labeling is analogous to US policy. The EU regulation on food labeling exempts alcohol beverages containing more than 1.2 percent alcohol-by-volume.

The European Commission proposal warrants careful attention by US alcohol beverage suppliers across all beverage categories. The initial industry response by European suppliers will likely start a lengthy process leading to new ingredient disclosures.

US regulations are largely based on the presumption that consumers have a working knowledge of ingredients in alcohol beverages. Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) and its predecessor agency considered and rejected mandatory ingredient labeling proposals several times since 1970s. TTB’s most recent assessment of ingredient and nutritional labeling of alcohol beverages was an advance notice of proposed rulemaking published in 2005 soliciting public input on the existing TTB policy. No further rulemaking activity followed the TTB inquiry.

Existing TTB regulations focus on disclosures of certain ingredients that pose unique health risks or allergic reactions. Industry members are permitted to disclose ingredients on a voluntary basis.  A few alcohol beverages are subject to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, which require comprehensive ingredient and nutritional labeling.

Many US products are exported for consumption in the EU. If a new system is adopted in the EU, producers in the US must provide ingredient and nutritional information to their customers overseas with no corresponding requirements in their home markets. EU suppliers are major players in the US market and may decide to voluntarily provide the same information to their American customers that they will ultimately have to provide in their home markets.

These dynamics will likely reinvigorate calls by consumer advocacy organizations and government agencies (e.g., Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health) in support of ingredient labeling of alcohol beverages in the US. In the current era of dwindling government resources, the European Commission’s call for an industry self-regulatory initiative provides an opening for a similar initiative in the US. Industry members and associations should monitor developments in the EU and consider appropriate responses directly to the EU initiative and to analogous proposals in the US.

An English version of the European Commission proposals is available here.

How is it that the Brewers Association—an organization that has no political action committee, has employed a staff lobbyist for only 18 months, and has only had a strong presence in Washington since 2009—has gained significant traction among policymakers in the nation’s capital?

The BA is now a serious player in Washington. That is not by accident; it’s a carefully conceived strategy implemented by the BA board and senior staff—including president and CEO Bob Pease—over the last seven years that seeks to leverage the inherent strengths of America’s small craft brewers.

Read the full article, originally published in the September/October 2016 issue of The New Brewer.

On May 5, 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the availability of its final menu labeling guidance, “A Labeling Guide for Restaurants and Retail Establishments Selling Away-From-Home Foods – Part II (Menu Labeling Requirements in Accordance with 21 CFR 101.11).” The guidance is designed to help businesses comply with the menu labeling final rule.

Under a law signed late last year, FDA’s enforcement of its menu labeling final rule cannot begin until one year after FDA published this notice of availability. As a result, enforcement of the final Menu Labeling regulations will start on May 5, 2017.

FDA’s guidance responds to many frequently asked questions that it has received. It differs from the draft guidance by providing additional examples and new or revised questions and answers on topics such as covered establishments (pages 6, 12–17), alcohol beverages (pages 50–55), catered events (page 14), mobile vendors (page 16), grab-and-go items (pages 40–41) and record keeping requirements (pages 42–47). Continue Reading FDA Announces Availability of Final Guidance on Menu Labeling

Whether you’re an experienced brewer getting ready to enter a new state, a startup packaging brewery looking to serve your home market, or a brewpub expanding to provide products to local retailers, you need a viable distribution plan. In recent years, individual brewers have deepened their understanding of industry dynamics in the heavily regulated beer distribution system. While many are effectively advocating reforms to accommodate new brewery business models, change occurs slowly in the political process. Those in business today who want to remain in business tomorrow need to deal with the existing realities of the marketplace. The following is a primer of common questions and answers related to distribution.

Read the full article, originally published in the March/April issue of The New Brewer.

On March 16, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a list of frequently asked questions expanding further on a ruling issued in February on application of the federal “tied house law” to industry promotional activities, specifically category management practices employed by retailers.

TTB claims that a formal rulemaking to revise its tied house regulations is not necessary: “TTB Ruling 2016-1 merely provides guidance as to the plain meaning of the existing regulation under 27 CFR 6.99(b). It does not change TTB’s longstanding position, nor does it change the meaning of the plain language of this regulatory exception.” So let’s look at the plain language:

The act by an industry member [supplier or wholesaler] of providing a recommended shelf plan or shelf schematic for distilled spirits, wine, or malt beverages does not constitute a means to induce within the meaning of section 105(b)(3) of the [Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA)] Act.

That statement on its face is an open-ended authorization to provide shelf schematics. It says nothing about the products of other industry members or whether the plan is written on a napkin or in a sophisticated IT system that is used for inventory management at hundreds of stores.  Continue Reading Tied House Laws and Category Management: A Continuing Quandary

Industry professionals should remain aware of trends in policy and technology that may lead to changes in our nation’s laws to combat drunk driving.  On January 13, 2016, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Christopher Hart announced the “2016 Most Wanted Safety Improvements,” a comprehensive set of transportation safety goals that the NTSB will advocate in the year ahead.  One priority is to “end substance abuse in transportation.”[i]  The NTSB is a federal agency charged with investigating serious transportation accidents.  While it is not a policymaking body, its recommendations carry significant weight with members of US Congress, state legislators and law enforcement personnel.

While enormous progress has been achieved in reducing drunk driving deaths in the US since the 1980s, the absolute number of fatalities resulting from drunk driving accidents has hovered around 10,000 over the last three years.  The cost of deaths and injuries is estimated at $37 billion annually by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.[ii]  These figures are in part the result of an increase in miles traveled by a growing American population, an improved economy and lower gas prices.  Nevertheless, the human and economic toll is substantial.

A key recommendation on the NTSB’s “Most Wanted” list is adoption of new state definitions of drunk driving covering with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 or lower.  The current federally-mandated BAC standard is 0.08.  The NTSB also urges pursuit of technologies to make vehicles safer, which includes development of vehicles that cannot be operated by an impaired driver.  Substantial federally-funded research is devoted to a variety of technologies to immobilize vehicles and to track consumption by individuals with prior drunk driving offenses.

Many practical solutions offered by industry members contributed to the long-term reduction in drunk driving and changes in social norms.  Examples include practical programs, such as encouraging use of designated drivers and providing safe rides for customers.


[i]  See, http://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl/Pages/mwl8-2016.aspx

[ii] See, http://www.nhtsa.gov/Impaired.

 

On December 22, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published an “Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements” (2015 Policy Statement) with unanimous support of the Commissioners.[i]  The Policy Statement applies to advertising and promotion of all goods and services, and it supplements prior FTC guidance that advertisers have relied on since the 1960s.[ii]  Given the FTC’s longstanding interest in alcohol beverage advertising by large and small suppliers, industry members should pay particular attention to the latest guidance on deception.

The 2015 Policy Statement focuses on so-called “native advertising” or “sponsored content,” which reasonable consumers may perceive to be “non-promotional content” such as news, articles, feature stories or educational information.  The FTC provides an example of digital advertising content in a publication that is formatted in the same manner as the publication itself.  The deception standard is summarized as follows:

Regardless of the medium in which an advertising or promotional message is disseminated, deception occurs when consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances are misled about its nature or source, and such misleading impression is likely to affect their decisions or conduct regarding the advertised product or the advertising.[iii]

Extensive guidance is provided for advertisers to avoid consumer deception in online and digital placements using fairly straightforward disclosures or other means of distinguishing ad content from the publication in which the ad content appears.  Recent enforcement actions are also discussed.  The key to compliance and avoiding FTC enforcement actions is to clearly inform consumers that they are viewing or reading advertising content.

The FTC has also prepared further specific guidance with discussions of issues arising in all forms of media and examples of recommended disclosures and formatting.  Guidance supplementing the 2015 Policy Statement is titled, “Native Advertising:  A Guide for Businesses.”[iv]

Over the last 15 years, several FTC special orders have been issued to beer, wine and spirits manufacturers requiring production of virtually all advertising content for a specified period (e.g., six months or a year).  The FTC staff reviewed those materials thoroughly with a focus on (i) voluntary compliance with industry advertising codes and (ii) compliance with federal laws prohibiting deceptive and unfair advertising practices.  The 2012 special orders issued to the top 14 beer, wine and spirits suppliers in the U.S. also requested privacy policies and terms and conditions of web sites and social media pages.[v]

Four detailed reports on alcohol beverage advertising have been issued since 1999 summarizing the FTC’s findings on alcohol beverage advertising.  The 2014 report was one of the first widely publicized reviews of digital advertising practices by a consumer products industry.[vi]


[i] Full statement is available at https://www.ftc.gov/public-statements/2015/12/commission-enforcement-policy-statement-deceptively-formatted

[ii] See, e.g. Statement in Regard to Advertisements That Appear in Feature Article Format, FTC Release, (Nov. 28, 1967), 73 F.T.C. at 1307 and FTC Statement on Deception, 103 F.T.C. 174, 175 (1984) (appended to Cliffdale Assocs., Inc., 103 F.T.C. 110 (1984)) (“Deception Policy Statement”).

[iii] See, 2015 Policy Statement, p. 2 and p. 10.

[iv] https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/native-advertising-guide-businesses

[v] Cite 2012 Special Order April 12, 2012; press release and link to order available at https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2012/04/ftc-orders-alcoholic-beverage-manufacturers-provide-data-agencys.

[vi] Because the https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/business-blog/2014/03/alcohol-advertising-ad-placement-self-regulation

Industry members should take note of several false advertising lawsuits against brewers and distillers. Several industry members are grappling with class action lawsuits, including at least three craft distillers. Compared to national ad campaigns from larger competitors, most small producer advertising is limited. But do not make the mistake of believing that modest advertising efforts eliminate the risk of enforcement actions or other liability. Thousands of industry websites and social media pages make tens of thousands of advertising claims. As companies achieve success, its brands gain visibility and the company will draw more scrutiny from class action plaintiffs’ lawyers, competitors and regulatory bodies.

Read the full article, originally published in the May/June 2015 issue of The New Brewer.

Successful advertising and marketing are essential to the continued growth and success of the craft brewing movement.  Brewers’ freedom to advertise in the United States is a privilege that brewers in other nations, and some industries in our own country, do not share.  This article by Art DeCelle, originally published in The New Brewer, discusses the best means of protecting commercial free speech in the brewing industry, including complying with the Brewers Association Marketing and Advertising Code.

Read the full article here.