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Contracts Corner: Sponsorship Agreements

Sponsorships continue to be one of the alcohol beverage industry’s primary methods of promoting brands to drinkers. In professional sports alone, alcohol beverage brands contributed $480 million in sponsorship revenue across the four major professional sports leagues during the 2022–2023 season, according to a SponsorUnited study. As suppliers look to better target audiences via sponsorships, it’s important for industry members looking to enter into a sponsorship relationship, as well as those hoping to engage an alcohol beverage brand as a sponsor, to understand how the regulation of the alcohol industry impacts these relationships and the contracts that solidify them.

The Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act prohibits an industry member (a supplier or wholesaler of alcohol beverages) from inducing a retailer to purchase a particular product to the exclusion of competitive products. See 27 U.S.C. § 205. An “inducement” may include a partial ownership stake in a retailer, money, free goods or other “things of value” provided to a retailer. The “exclusion” element requires the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to show a potential real-world impact (i.e., the inducement results in a retailer purchasing less of a competing product than it otherwise would have, and the inducement places or threatens to place a retailer’s independence at risk) before a violation is found.

Sponsorships in other industries often involve a commitment that the brand paying sponsorship dollars will be the exclusive offering of a team, venue or event, or at a minimum, require that a particular brand be offered or available to consumers as part of the sponsor benefits. In the alcohol space, an industry member paying a retailer in exchange for the retailer’s commitment to serve the supplier’s brand(s) of alcohol beverages, often called “pouring rights,” typically satisfies both elements necessary to find a violation of the FAA Act: that the sponsorship fee is a thing of value, and it leads to the exclusion of competitive products.

Sponsor benefits should not include a commitment that a retailer purchase or not purchase a particular brand or brands of alcoholic beverages. Because of restrictions on the flow of money from suppliers to retailers, most sponsorship agreements involving an alcohol brand are between an industry member and a third-party unlicensed entity, not the entity holding the license to sell or serve alcohol at an event or within a venue. However, conduct that is prohibited for an industry member to engage in directly is also prohibited if undertaken indirectly using a third party as a pass-through entity. Accordingly, the entity selling sponsorship rights should represent and warrant the following:

  • It does not hold a license to sell alcohol at retail.
  • The funds paid under the terms of the agreement will not be passed on to a retailer.
  • Nothing contained in the agreement is intended to require or prohibit any retailer or concessionaire from purchasing or not purchasing a particular brand or brands of alcoholic beverages.

As we support clients in negotiating sponsorship agreements and understanding the scope of sponsor [...]

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2022 TTB Industry Circular 1: Consignment Sales

Each year the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issues “Industry Circulars” that apply statutory or regulatory requirements to a “specific circumstance or set of facts” or restate existing requirements. TTB also uses Industry Circulars to announce new statutory requirements or to discuss certain corrective actions. The last few years have been relatively quiet in terms of TTB Industry Circulars, with only seven released in the last three years. Industry Circulars are an incredibly useful tool for a range of industry members and can provide clarity and direction on complicated regulatory issues.

In 2022, TTB issued three Industry Circulars. The first, released March 4, 2022, provided clarity on TTB’s views on the Federal Alcohol Administration Act’s (FAA Act) consignment sales provisions. The second, released November 16, 2022, reminded industry members of certain advertising rules, as well as clarified how those rules apply in the world of social media advertising. The third and final Industry Circular, released December 29, 2022, provided guidance for distilled spirits plants and importers on how to calculate certain reduced or effective tax rates under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA).

As we gear up for 2023, the following is our take on how TTB’s guidance may be useful for you and your business.

Industry Circular 1: Consignment Sales

TTB issued its first Industry Circular of the year to clarify how it views extended payment terms under the consignment sales provisions of the FAA Act. The FAA Act makes it unlawful for an industry member (supplier or wholesaler) to sell, offer for sale, or contract to sell to any trade buyer (wholesaler or retailer), or for a trade buyer to purchase, offer to purchase or contract to purchase any products:

  1. On consignment
  2. Under conditional sale
  3. With the privilege of return
  4. On any basis other than a bona fide sale, or
  5. Where any part of the sale involves, directly or indirectly, the acquisition by the industry member of other products from the trade buyer or the agreement to accept other products form the trade buyer.

See 27 USC § 205(d). Sales “on consignment” are arrangements where a trade buyer is under no obligation to pay for product until they have been sold by the trade buyer. See 27 CFR § 11.22.

This Industry Circular reminds industry members that although TTB generally prohibits consignment sales, the regulations do not specifically impose payment term limitations for sales between industry members and trade buyers. That does not mean, however, that all payment terms are “beyond scrutiny as potential sales on consignment.”

In particular, TTB advised that “in the absence of explicit terms that violate the consignment sale regulations, payment terms of up to 30 days are unlikely to constitute consignment sales.” Conversely, payment terms exceeding 30 days may invite scrutiny from TTB to determine whether those payment terms were “merely a subterfuge” to sell goods on consignment because the buyer is effectively under no obligation to pay for product until the trade buyer has sold [...]

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2022 TTB Industry Circular 2: Social Media Advertising

Due to the uptick in alcohol advertisement on social media platforms, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued guidance on advertising via social media and how TTB’s rules on advertising generally apply in this new and important context, as summarized below.

  • TTB views an entire page or site as a single advertisement, so mandatory statements need only appear once on the page, but they should be conspicuous and readily apparent to the viewer.
    • This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, your brand’s Instagram or YouTube, TikTok, etc.
  • On social networking sites where providing all the mandatory information may be difficult because of space restrictions, TTB allows you to provide a link to another webpage that contains the mandatory information.
    • You must clearly name or mark it to indicate that the mandatory company and/or product information can be found by clicking the link.
    • The link should take users directly to the mandatory information and not to a “general website” that would require additional action to find the information.
  • TTB also considers content created by another party that is reposted or “liked” by an industry member or other similar action that would cause the content to show up in the feed of their page followers to be “advertising” and therefore subject to the advertising rules.
  • Your brand’s Instagram, for example, is considered a single advertisement by TTB but if a photo or video is posted to a site and is not associated with a profile section that bears mandatory information about the product, the industry member must include the mandatory statements within the photos/videos themselves.
    • Influencer marketing, for example, requires the same mandatory advertising statements that are required for industry members’ social media sites. This requirement may also be satisfied with the influencer including a clearly marked link to another website that contains all the mandatory information

SeeTTB Industry Circular 2022-2.

As a reminder, below are the basic TTB requirements for mandatory information that must appear on all alcohol advertisements:

Basics of Alcohol Advertising

TTB requires certain mandatory statements appear in advertising for a malt beverage, wine and distilled spirits products:

  • For malt beverages and distilled spirits: the name, city, and state OR the name and other contact information (phone number, website or email address) where the responsible advertiser may be contacted.
  • For wine: the name and address (city and state) of the permittee responsible for the advertisement (TTB has modernized the advertising rules for malt beverages and distilled spirits but has not yet finalized modernization of wine advertising rules).
  • For all commodities: the class to which the product belongs, corresponding with the information shown on the approved label.
  • For distilled spirits only: the alcohol content presented as a percentage of alcohol by volume (the same alcohol content that appears on the label of the distilled spirits you are advertising) and, if needed, the percentage of neutral spirits and the name of the commodity.

There are several [...]

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TTB Industry Circular 3: Calculating Tax Rates and Tax Credits on Imported Distilled Spirits

In the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) final Industry Circular of the year, they provided DSPs guidance on how to calculate effective tax rates for distilled spirits products eligible for the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) reduced tax rates, as well as providing importers with guidance on calculating and using effective tax rates or standard effective tax rates (SETRs) for imported products that are eligible for CBMA tax benefits. This Industry Circular supersedes Industry Circular 2018-4. This 2022 iteration essentially restates the procedures for DSPs calculating effective tax rates for distilled spirits products subject to CBMA reduced tax rates, but updates guidance for importers on how to calculate and use effective tax rates or SETRs for imported products that are eligible for CBMA tax benefits.

Because the guidance for DSPs on calculating effective tax rates remains essentially unchanged, we summarize the updated guidance for importers set forth in the Industry Circular below:

The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 transferred responsibility for administering the CBMA tax benefits for imported alcohol from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) beginning with products entered for consumption in the US on or after January 1, 2023. That responsibility was then delegated by the Treasury to TTB.

Generally, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) imposes a tax of $13.50 per proof gallon on distilled spirits produced or imported into the U.S. See 26 USC § 5001(a)(1). However, reduced tax rates of $2.70 and $13.34 per proof gallon may be available under certain circumstances. Id. at § 5001(c). Section 5010 of the IRC allows certain credits against the tax imposed in Section 5001 on each proof gallon of alcohol in a distilled spirits product derived from eligible wine or from eligible flavors to the extent the eligible flavors do not exceed 2.5 percent of the finished product on a proof gallon basis (5010 credits).

An effective tax rate for an imported distilled spirits product is the tax rate applicable to the product after subtracting allowable 5010 credits. TTB must approve an effective tax each time a distilled spirits product containing eligible wine or eligible flavors is imported into the US. The procedure for securing approval of an effective tax rate is located in 27 CFR § 27.76.

An SETR for an imported distilled spirits product is established under 27 CFR § 27.77 based on the least quantity and lowest alcohol content of eligible wine or eligible flavors used in the manufacture of the distilled spirits products. TTB must also approve an SETR for distilled spirits in accordance with the procedure set forth in 27 CFR § 27.77.

Beginning January 1, 2023, importers who want to take advantage of CBMA tax benefits must pay the full tax rate to CBP and then submit a claim to TTB for a refund of their claimed benefits. TTB advises importers to follow the procedures set forth in 27 CFR § 27.76 to establish effective tax [...]

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Non-Alcoholic Beer Regulation 101

As part of the general move to better-for-you beverages, non-alcoholic (NA) options have been and will likely continue to be on the rise. However, how NA is treated, or not treated, as “beer” has significant impact on its potential route to market. The below summarizes the overall treatment of NA beer under US federal law, as well as examples of restrictions on direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipments imposed by certain states.

FEDERAL TREATMENT OF NA BEER

  • Tax Treatment: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulations define “beer” as a fermented beverage containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume (ABV) and brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute for malt. (See: 27 C.F.R. § 25.11.) The regulations refer to a malt beverage containing less than 0.5% ABV as a “cereal beverage.” (See: 25.11.) Because NA beer contains less than 0.5% ABV, TTB will not treat it as a “beer” under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and accordingly it will not be subject to federal alcohol excise taxes in the United States.
  • Formula Requirements: Once a process is developed for an NA malt beverage and prior to production, a formula must be submitted and approved by TTB. If an NA malt beverage is “alcohol-free,” TTB policy is to require submission of laboratory testing results.
  • Labeling: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) regulates malt beverages, regardless of their alcohol content, if they meet the Act’s requirements of containing some malted barley, some hops (or hop parts or products) and having been subject to fermentation. An anomaly exists because the FAA Act’s definition of “malt beverage” does not include any minimum or maximum threshold of alcohol content. Because nonalcoholic and alcohol-free beers are produced like conventional beer and then de-alcoholized, they fall under TTB’s labeling and advertising jurisdiction. Several regulations specifically address such products. (See: 27 CFR § 7.71.)
  • FDA Requirements: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires NA beverages that are not malt beverages under the FAA Act (beverage without malt and hops or an unfermented beverage) to be labeled in accordance with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) 15 U.S.C. §§ 1451-1461, and the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act 21 U.S.C. §§ 343-350. (Click here for more information.) These statutes and the FDA regulations require a full ingredient list and nutritional facts label. If an NA beverage without malt or hops or an unfermented beverage is being considered, a full explanation of the FDA requirements will be needed to develop a compliant production, labeling and marketing plan. The FDA has industry guidance on labeling and formulation of “dealcoholized beer.” (See: FDA CPG Sec. 510.400, updated Nov. 2005.)
  • Production Process Issue: If the production process for an NA beverage includes removal of alcohol from beer through reverse osmosis or other processes that separate alcohol from the other components of a beverage, the process may be considered distilling operations, which will require a federal basic permit for a distilled spirits plant. (SeeATF Ruling 85-6.)
[...]

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Five Issues That Impact Craft Brewers

In an article published by The New Brewer, Marc Sorini discusses five issues most likely to have a meaningful impact on craft brewers in the coming years, including:

  1. The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act’s (CBMTRA) new tiered excise tax rate structure, its extending benefits to foreign producers, and its authorization for brewers to transfer beer in bond between breweries of different ownership.
  2. The Sixth Circuit’s published opinion in Byrd v. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, affirming a decision finding that the “durational-residency” requirements imposed by Tennessee law for alcohol beverage retail licensees are unconstitutional under the “dormant” Commerce Clause.
  3. The TTB’s creation of a new unit within its Trade Investigations Division to focus on trade practice enforcement.
  4. The opinion in Mission Beverage Co. v. Pabst Brewing Co. from the California Court of Appeals, which found that “an existing distributor’s receipt of the ‘fair market value of the affected distribution rights’ under [the California statute] does not necessarily make that distributor whole.”
  5. The US District Court for the Northern District of California’s decision in a putative class action alleging that the labeling and marketing of a successful California-based craft brewery was false and deceptive.

Access the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2018.




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TTB in a Deregulatory Mood

Changes in Administration and other political shifts can have subtle and, occasionally, not-so-subtle influences in the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) policies and priorities. In the article, “TTB in a Deregulatory Mood” published by Artisan Spirit, Marc Sorini explores how the Trump Administration’s desire to reduce regulatory burdens on business has already influenced TTB’s regulatory priorities. Particularly, in the most recent “Unified Agenda,” a bi-annual compilation of federal regulatory initiatives, TTB placed a priority on deregulatory projects, several of which would alter the regulatory environment for the industry. Marc discusses how the change in administration appears to have an effect on TTB’s rulemaking efforts.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit, Spring 2018.




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FDA Releases Draft Guidance on Public Warnings and Notifications of Recalls

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a draft guidance on the agency’s voluntary recall process and announced the agency’s intention to notify the public faster when a product is recalled. The guidance aims to assist and provide recommendations to industry and FDA staff regarding the use, content and circumstances for issuance of public warnings and public notifications for firm‑initiated or FDA‑requested recalls. In addition, the guidance discusses what information to include in a public warning, as well as the parties responsible for issuing it. Notably, the draft guidance does not specifically address recalls of alcohol beverage products regulated by the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act or the primary role of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in seeking and monitoring recalls of such beverages. Comments on the draft guidance are due by March 20, 2018. (more…)




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The Intersection of Spirits and Marijuana

In the past three years, TTB has approved an increasing number of certificate of label approvals (“COLA”) for hemp-flavored vodka, from Mill Six’s hemp, white tea and ginger flavored vodka to Olde Imperial Mystic’s hemp infused vodka. Distillers have designed labels with green smoke-like images and psychedelic sixties-style lettering to hint at their cultural connection to marijuana. As more states have legalized recreational cannabis, distillers have been thinking more ambitiously about combining their distilling business with one or more aspects of the emerging marijuana business.

Read the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017.




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TTB Issues Guidance on Application of Consignment Sales Regulations to Freshness Dating and Returns from Retailers

On September 29, 2017, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued Ruling 2017-2, which updates and supersedes older agency guidance on allowable returns of beer and malt beverage products that contain “pull dates” or other indicators of product freshness.

The Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act includes a general prohibition on “consignment sales,” 27 USC 205(d). Congress believed that all transactions should be “bona fide” sales. Id. The intent was to prevent a wide range of unscrupulous practices that might occur if manufacturers and wholesalers furnishing alcohol beverages to retailers on consignment or with the right of return.

The FAA Act prohibition on consignment sales does not apply to “transactions involving solely the bona fide return of merchandise for ordinary and usual commercial reasons arising after the merchandise has been sold.” Id. TTB regulations provide an extensive list of reasons that a manufacturer or wholesaler can accept returns. 27 CFR, Part 11, Subpart D. (more…)




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