ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
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FDA Publishes Supplemental Guidance on Menu Labeling for Chain Restaurants

On November 7, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the latest in a series of industry draft guidance documents to help implement menu labeling and nutrient disclosure regulations applicable to chain restaurants (Draft Guidance). FDA guidance documents are advisory in nature and represent the views of the FDA at a given point in time. Accordingly, guidance is subject to change, but is useful for developing a compliance plan for retail establishments covered by the menu labeling regulations. Changes are usually incremental and based on agency experience and input from regulated industry members. The FDA established a 60-day period for comments on the draft menu labeling and nutrient disclosure guidance. The comment period ends on January 6, 2018. The current compliance date for menu labeling and nutrient disclosure regulations is May 7, 2018. Implementation of federal menu labeling and nutrient disclosures by chain restaurants is a study in...

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Massachusetts Court Dismisses Brand Owner’s Suit against Wholesaler

Earlier this month, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge granted beer wholesaler Craft Beer Guild, LLC’s (Craft) motion to dismiss a civil suit, Shelton Bros., Inc. v. Craft Beer Guild, LLC d/b/a Craft Brewer’s Guild, brought against it by beer importer Shelton Brothers, Inc. (Shelton) in connection with Craft’s alleged breach of its distribution agreement with Shelton. Craft distributed beer imported by Shelton throughout Massachusetts. In November 2016, Shelton filed a complaint alleging that Craft breached a 2009 oral agreement between Craft and Shelton by failing to follow through on its promises regarding pricing and providing two dedicated sales people to support Shelton’s brands. In its complaint, Shelton alleged that sales of its products were in “steep decline” by 2011 due to Craft’s discriminatory pricing of Shelton’s products in the market. Shelton sought: (1) a declaratory judgment from the court that it could distribute its products through other...

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Approaches to Spirits Direct Shipping

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales of alcohol beverages have been a hot topic in the alcohol industry for the last two decades. The wine direct-shipping landscape has changed greatly over the past 15 or so years, most dramatically by the US Supreme Court’s decision in Granholm v. Heald. Today nearly evert state—plus the District of Columbia—allows wineries to ship wine across state lines directly to in-state consumers. The same cannot be said for spirits. There are, however, a few avenues distillers may consider to get their products delivered to consumers around the country. Further, an initiative is underway to pursue litigation to secure DTC rights for spirits. Although it is far too early to speculate about the outcome of any such litigation, the current effort suggests the potential for interstate distiller-to-consumer sales in the coming years. Of course, lingering ambivalence toward spirits (as opposed to wine) by the public, lawmakers, and alcohol...

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Federal Trade Commission Reminder about Advertising Disclosures

In mid-April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out 90 letters to advertisers, celebrity endorsers and influencers who use their fame and the power of digital advertising to help promote products.  The facts in each letter vary, but the FTC's message was a strong reminder that clear and conspicuous disclosure is required if a "material connection" exists between and endorser and the marketer of a product. Typically, the marketer is a manufacturer, importer or an advertising agency that establishes a relationship with an endorser.  In 2009, the FTC created endorsement guides to ensure that consumers are on notice that an endorser or influencer is being compensated by a marketer.  In 2015, the FTC published an Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements.  Those sources provide straightforward guidance to inform consumers that an endorser is acting on behalf of a marketer and to differentiate advertising from truly independent news...

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Legal, Political and Practical Challenges in Regulating Recreational Marijuana

On March 30, eight bills were introduced by senior members of Congress from both parties to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. The bills were referred to at least five House Committees, as they address federal criminal law, taxation, banking, transportation, immigration, veterans’ affairs, access to federal benefits and other issues. The legislative activity follows establishment of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in February. Leaders of the new caucus represent four of the eight states where voters have approved recreational use of marijuana by adults. In the initial press conference held by Cannabis Caucus members and in statements explaining the new legislation, House and Senate members made frequent reference to laws regulating alcohol beverages. Bills introduced earlier in the current session of Congress also call for state-by-state regulation using language similar to the Section 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment, which authorized each state to...

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USDA Warns Canada-EU Trade Agreement Could Impact US Alcohol Beverage Exports

US exporters of alcohol beverages to Canada will soon face stiffer competition from their European rivals. The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is expected to come into force by June 1, 2017, and Canadian duties on EU wines, beer and other alcoholic beverages will go to zero immediately. While tariffs on EU wine imports are already fairly low, products such as ciders will have their current duty rate reduced from 28 cents per liter to zero immediately. In fact, the European Commission is already extolling the expanded export opportunities for EU wine and spirit producers as a major selling point for CETA. The US is expected to enter into formal North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations with Canada and Mexico this summer. US alcohol beverage producers and trade associations should act now to ensure that the US negotiators protect US market access in Canada and otherwise promote their interests. The USDA report...

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Implications of EU Ingredient Labeling Proposal for US Suppliers

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...

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TTB Changes Under the Fall Edition of the Unified Agenda

On December 23rd, 2016 the federal government published its Fall edition of the “Unified Agenda” – a bi-annual compilation of all ongoing federal rulemaking projects. Attached is a copy of the TTB detail from this latest Unified Agenda. As always, projected future publication dates should be viewed with a very healthy dose of skepticism. TTB’s portion of the Unified Agenda identifies the following “priority” items: Final rules implementing the International Trade Data System (ITDS). TTB published these final rules on December 22, 2016 – mission accomplished. Revisions to TTB regulations to implement the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” (PATH Act). Among other things, the PATH Act amended the Internal Revenue Code definition of “hard cider” and changed the bonding requirements for small excise taxpayers. While listed as a priority for action in late 2016, TTB has shown little ability to quickly amend its regulations to reflect statutory...

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TTB Publishes Final Rule to Streamline Importation and Exportation Procedures

On December 22, 2016, TTB published a Final Rule implementing the streamlined importation and exportation procedures established by the International Trade Data System (ITDS). See 91 Fed. Reg. 94186 (Dec. 22, 1016). ITDS is an interagency program to establish a “singe window” that importers and exporters can use to submit all data required by Federal agencies in order to clear imports or exports. Under the new system, importers and exporters will need to file only with the “Automated Broker Interface,” a system run and administered by Customs & Border Protection (CBP). The CBP system then makes that data available to every other federal agency, including TTB, which requires it. In short, importers and exporters of alcohol beverages can fulfill all their filing requirements electronically, through a single system. A link to TTB’s Final Rule is found here.

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Exporting Craft Beer to Europe

Until recently, few would have predicted that US craft beers would find their way into European markets, yet today they are successfully meeting European tastes. Craft beers are increasingly able to compete with other products in Europe, such as wine, and there is increasing market demand in Europe for innovative, rare and exotic beers. US brewers looking to sell their products in Europe cannot, however, simply apply their US commercial strategies, but should instead adapt distribution models that align with their commercial goals in order to take into account the European legal and regulatory context. In addition, although the US legislative framework has a lot in common with that of the European Economic Area, each EU member state has its own regulatory and distribution peculiarities. Read the full article, originally published in the November/December 2016 issue of The New Brewer.

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