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Category archives for “TTB lawyer”

Nevada Signals Intention to More Actively Monitor Trade Practices

March 5th, 2014

Almost three years ago now, as reported on Imbiblog here, the TTB accepted its largest set of offers in compromise ever, for trade practices violations. Some of the biggest names in the business agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the TTB even though they denied violating any laws or regulations. The allegations of trade practice violations came from participation by the companies in the 2008-2009 Harrah’s Nationwide Beverage Program. Unlike notable earlier trade practice investigations by the TTB, where there was state participation and a parallel investigation, there were no allegations made against retailers involved in the program, and no fines or penalties assessed against retailers (see for example the 2004-2009 joint investigation by Illinois and TTB into payments made by suppliers and wholesalers to Sam’s Wine & Spirits, Inc., then the largest wine retailer in the country, and its captive third party marketing organization Skyline Marketing, Inc.). The 2011 settlement by TTB was acknowledged to result from a retailer-initiated promotional program. Given that the TTB has extremely limited jurisdiction over alcohol retailers, however, the agency was unable to enforce any allegations against Harrah’s for the promotion. Had the State of Nevada participated in the investigation, it is more likely that charges could have been brought.

Now, the Office of the Attorney-General in Nevada has come out with an open letter to retailers, wholesalers and suppliers of liquor in Nevada in what appears to signal an intention to focus more attention on trade practice issues in the State. The advice contained in the letter is phrased as a “reminder” to the industry of prohibited and restricted activities. It covers the following issues:

-          No loans from wholesalers to retailers of money or other thing of value, no investments by a wholesaler in a retailer, no complimentary furnishing of premises or equipment, and no joint operation of a retail business;

-          Adherence to strict payment terms, with no preference accorded by wholesalers to certain retailers, and with a cessation of sales and monthly service charges in case of delinquency;

-          No substitution of brands without consent, and no delivery of unwanted or unnecessary inventory;

-          No required boycotts of other suppliers;

-          No price fixing down the supply chain by suppliers imposing resale prices on wholesalers, and no profit splitting with the supplier getting a specified portion of the wholesaler’s profit margin;

-          No excessive marketing contributions being required by suppliers of their wholesalers, for promotions outside the wholesaler’s market or beyond the terms agreed by the parties;

-          Strict adherence to the quoted price from suppliers to wholesalers;

-          No discrimination by suppliers among wholesalers (note that Nevada has a franchise law meaning that this refers to discrimination between wholesalers in different parts of the state as only one wholesaler can be appointed in any given market); and,

-          No deceptive trade practices.

The letter refers to concerns with illegal terms or incentives by industry members looking for a competitive edge in the market. It notes that the Attorney General has jurisdiction over these issues and is required by law to take appropriate legal action to enforce the provisions of law setting forth the restrictions above. The Attorney General’s office recognizes in the letter its duty to investigate and prosecute deceptive trade practices in Nevada. Should the type of circumstances in the TTB’s investigation in 2011 arise again, it will be very interesting to see what action is taken by the state in light of this clear signal that it is unlikely to sit by if unlawful trade practices occur in Nevada.

If you have any questions about trade practice issues, in Nevada or elsewhere, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Updates its Position on Gluten-Free Label Claims

February 11th, 2014

On Tuesday, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) issued an Announcement regarding its treatment of “gluten-free” claims on alcoholic beverage labels. As we previously blogged here, TTB has been looking into the issue of gluten-free labeling since at least 2012, and TTB Ruling 2012-2 implemented a policy of allowing the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. For products made from gluten-containing materials, the 2012 Ruling implemented several requirements, including: a) a statement that the product is “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten;” b) a qualifying statement to inform consumers that (i) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten, (ii) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products, and (iii) the finished product may contain gluten; and, c) a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

TTB explains in its most recent announcement that it has finished its review of the FDA’s rule on gluten-free labeling, and has updated its requirements accordingly. TTB will continue to allow the term “gluten-free” only on the labels of products that are produced without any ingredients that contain gluten. However, for products made from gluten-containing materials, TTB has lessened the labeling requirements, and now provides that such products may be labeled with a statement that the product was “processed, “treated” or “crafted” to remove gluten, if that claim “is made together with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten.” Labels no longer require a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product.

If you have any questions about alcoholic beverage labeling, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·

Getting Started in the Business: Licensing

December 12th, 2013

This blog entry is part of a continuing series discussing important steps to get started in the alcoholic beverage industry. Once you have pinpointed a location for your business (discussed in a previous post, here), you will need to obtain a license, or a combination of licenses, before you commence operations.  To determine what type(s) of license(s) you need, here are some answers to questions you may be asking:

*   Do the Tied-House Laws Permit Me to Hold the Licenses I Want?  Federally and across all states, “tied house” laws generally prohibit the same person or entity from having an ownership interest in alcohol beverage businesses in more than one of the 3 tiers -manufacturing/importing, distribution and retail.  (To learn more about tied house laws, review this post.)  However, that restriction is far from absolute.  Many statutory exceptions have been carved out of the 3-tier system to permit cross-tier licensing and the resulting patchwork of exceptions can be difficult to comprehend.  For example, in California, wineries can also own restaurants (subject to restrictions) and certain off-sale retail stores.  Small breweries (less than 60,000 barrels/year) can own on-sale retailers but large breweries cannot.  Beer and wine wholesalers cannot also be retailers, unless they sell only wine through the retail store.  Other states have their own set of hard-to-explain exceptions.

*   What Does My License Permit Me to Do?  The general rule is that manufacturers sell to wholesalers; wholesalers sell to retailers; and retailers sell to consumers.  But this, too, is riddled with exceptions.  California wineries and breweries can sell their products directly to retailers and consumers without using a distributor, but distilled spirits manufacturers can sell only to distributors and cannot themselves hold a distributor license.  Rectifiers, on the other hand, can act as their own distributor and sell their products – and spirits products made by anyone else – directly to retailers.  Moreover, you may need more than one license to operate your business.  For example, if you are going to be operating a distillery, you will need a Type 4 (Distilled Spirits Manufacturer’s license), and a Type 6 (Still) license.  If you are importing distilled spirits from outside of California and distributing them to retailers you’ll need a Type 12 (Distilled Spirits Importer), and a Type 18 (Distilled Spirits Wholesaler).  California issues dozens of different licenses so it is important to know exactly what you want to do, which licenses are needed to accomplish it, and whether you are eligible to hold them.

*   What are the Processing Times to Obtain a License?  In California, it takes about 90-120 days to process an application for a new license, and slightly less time to transfer an existing license at a premises that is already licensed. It will take longer to process an application that is incomplete, contested by neighboring residents or the local authorities, or filed incorrectly.  Also keep in mind that the ABC cannot issue a license until it has received confirmation from the City/County that all required use permits have been obtained.  Each applicant will be assigned a local ABC investigator to handle the application until the process is completed.  Currently, U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (“TTB”) licenses are processing in about 90 days, similar to California licenses.

*   May I Obtain a Temporary Permit?  Provided that you are transferring an existing license at an already licensed premises, the California ABC may grant a temporary permit so you may operate your business while the license transfer application is being processed. A temporary permit is not available in connection with applications for new licenses or applications to transfer existing licenses to a premises that has not been previously licensed.

*    What Are the Costs Involved?  Depending on what type(s) of license(s) applied for, the cost can vary considerably.  A schedule of license costs is available here.  Some retail licenses are limited in numbers and must be purchased on the open market.  Prices for these licenses vary greatly by type and location.  For instance, a Type-47 (On-sale general eating place) may sell for $200,000 in San Francisco, whereas the same type of license in Fresno County currently only costs $12,000.

In conjunction with your ABC application, you may also need to obtain other federal, state or local licenses/permits.   In California this may include, for example:  federal licenses through the TTB; a certification from the Secretary of State that you are qualified to do business in the state; and a sales tax permit from the State Board of Equalization.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about applying for a license to get started in the alcohol beverage business.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Federal Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau (‘TTB’) Shut Down

October 1st, 2013

Effective October 1, 2013 TTB has suspended operations as part of the federal government shutdown.  TTB.gov remains operable and industry members can continue to file electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes online.  However, all E-applications including Permits Online, Formulas Online and COLAs Online are unavailable. Please refer to the TTB’s cessation notice here.

What does this mean for Industry Members? The short answer is that processing times will slow or stop until funding has been restored. It is still too soon to tell what the long term impacts will be, but in the short term we anticipate significant delays in the issuance of basic permits, label approvals and formula approvals. We’ll keep you posted as the situation develops.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Issues Guidance on Social Media Advertising

July 9th, 2013

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) recently released Industry Circular 2013-1, “Use of Social Media in the Advertising of Alcohol Beverages.” Most importantly, TTB dispels any notions that the advertising regulations in 27 CFR parts 4 (wine), 5 (distilled spirits), and 7 (malt beverages) don’t apply to social media, and confirms that those rules “apply to all advertisements… in any media, including social media.” The Circular goes on to address unique issues for advertising within specific social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

TTB regulations define an advertisement as “any written or verbal statement, illustration, or depiction which is in, or calculated to induce sales in, interstate or foreign commerce, or is disseminated by mail, whether it appears in a newspaper, magazine, trade booklet, menu, wine card, leaflet, circular, mailer, book insert, catalog, promotional material, sales pamphlet, or any written, printed, graphic, or other matter accompanying the container, representations made on cases, billboard, sign, or other outdoor display, public transit card, other periodical literature, publication, or in a radio or television broadcast, or in any other media.” Content that qualifies as an advertisement must contain certain information, including a responsible advertiser statement that includes the name and address of the industry member responsible for the ad, as well as the product’s class, type, or distinctive designation. Certain content is also prohibited from appearing in ads, such as statements that are false, that disparage a competitor’s product, or that are obscene or indecent.

TTB’s Circular addresses how the advertising regulations apply to specific social media platforms. Particularly relevant points include the following:

- Facebook: A “fan page” constitutes one advertisement, so mandatory statements need to appear only once on a page, and should appear on the industry member’s “profile page;” rules on prohibited content apply to all material posted by the industry member, including material the industry member re-posts.

- Twitter: Mandatory statements are not required in each tweet, and instead must appear on the industry member’s profile page or equivalent.

- YouTube and other video-sharing websites: Videos that fit the definition of an advertisement must include mandatory statements within the actual video, not only on the page where the video is located.

- Blogs: Industry member blogs qualify as ads to which the rules on mandatory and prohibited content apply.

- Mobile Applications: Apps must include the company name or brand name of the product advertised.

The main take-away from TTB’s Circular is that industry members should monitor all social media channels to ensure that content complies with TTB regulations. Consult TTB’s guidance or call one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for guidelines on advertising through a particular social media platform.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Says Alcohol Content Can Move to the Back Label for Wine

June 10th, 2013

Announced today, and effective August 9, 2013, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (the TTB) has announced changes to its labeling requirements for wine. Amending 27 CFR 4.32, the alcohol content for wine no longer must appear on the brand label, and instead it may be printed on the brand label or on other labels affixed to the bottle, including the back label. The TTB also amended 27 CFR 4.36 to the effect that wines with alcohol content of at least 7 percent and no more than 14 percent may still be labeled with either (a) the designation of “light wine” or “table wine” on the brand label, or (b) the numerical alcohol content of the wine. The new amendments do not permit the “light wine” or “table wine” designations to appear on any label other than the brand label. A new COLA is not required if the only change made to an approved label is the relocation of the alcohol content statement.  If you have any questions about labeling, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2013 · All Rights Reserved ·

Food Safety Modernization Act Facility Renewals Due Now

December 27th, 2012

The Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”) was passed into law in early 2011 and amends parts of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The act’s purpose, which we previously blogged about here, is to ensure that food produced in the U.S. or imported into the U.S. meets safety standards. The FSMA and related FDA laws include alcohol in the definition of “food,” and a “Food Facility” includes any “factory, warehouse, or establishment (including a factory, warehouse, or establishment of an importer) that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food,” not including restaurants and other retail food establishments. Accordingly, many in the alcohol industry stand to be affected by the FSMA, including wineries, breweries, distilled spirits plants, alcohol beverage distributors, importers, warehouses, and wholesalers.

Prior to the enactment of the FSMA, Food Facilities were required to register with the FDA one time only, and no renewal was required. Food Facilities are now required to renew their FDA registrations every two years, and the first renewal is required by December 31, 2012. However, the FDA’s registration renewal website was not available on October 1, 2012, when renewal was scheduled to open, leaving many scrambling to meet the deadline. The FDA has not formally extended the renewal deadline, but it recently confirmed that it would “exercise enforcement discretion” through January 31, 2013. Specifically, the FDA’s guidance provides that “because there was a delay in FDA’s implementation of biennial registration renewal for the 2012 cycle, and registration renewal did not become available until October 22, 2012, FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to registration renewals submitted to FDA after December 31, 2012 for a period of 31 days, until January 31, 2013.”

FDA renewals can be completed online, but a registrant’s FDA number and login information is required before the process can be completed. Detailed guidance on the FSMA and the renewal process is available here. Contact one of the attorney’s at Strike & Techel if you have questions about the FSMA.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Allows Beer Returns Based on Freshness Dating

December 19th, 2012

In response a request from industry members, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) recently issued Ruling 2012-4, which addresses whether brewers may require wholesalers to pull beer from retailers that is past its freshness date and replace it with fresh beer. Many beers now include freshness dates, and some brewers ask distributors to remove beer from the retail market that is past its freshness date. Brewers argue that this ensures that consumers get fresh product, but the practice is arguably at odds with laws prohibiting consignment sales.

The FAA act makes it unlawful for industry members, including beer producers, importers, and wholesalers, to sell, offer for sale, or contract to sell to any retailer on consignment, under conditional sale, with the privilege of return, or on any basis otherwise than a bona fide sale. See 27 U.S.C. § 205(d). There are limited exceptions to this prohibition, but only for those “ordinary and usual commercial reasons” included in 27 C.F.R. §§ 11.32 – 39. The limited exceptions when an industry member may accept a return include: a) defective product, b) shipment error, c) change in law preventing the sale of a product, d) termination of the buyer’s business or franchise, e) change in product from that held in inventory, and f) possible spoilage of product during the off-season of a seasonal retailer.

None of the exceptions to the consignment sales law clearly applies to returns based on freshness dating, thus prompting the TTB’s Ruling. The Ruling makes clear that under certain conditions, returns based on freshness dating are permitted under the exception for “defective products” found in 27 C.F.R. § 11.32. Those conditions are as follows:

-          The brewer has policies and procedures in place that specify the date after which the retailer must pull the product;

-          The brewer’s freshness return/exchange policies and procedures are readily verifiable and consistently followed by the brewer;

-          The container has identifying markings that correspond with this date; and

-          The malt beverage product pulled by the retailer may not re-enter the retail marketplace.

Finally, the TTB noted that wholesalers may not force retailers to overstock the wholesaler’s products under the pretext that the retailer may exchange product based on the freshness date, and that such practices would violate consignment sale and tied-house laws.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about TTB rules and regulations.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

Do “Illegal” Alcohol Sales Create Trademark Rights? The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Says Maybe So.

November 26th, 2012

As more and more beverage brands are introduced into the U.S., it is becoming increasingly difficult for suppliers to come up with unique trademarks that do not infringe marks already in use by others. As a result, trademark disputes involving alcohol beverage brands are common. Such disputes typically come down to the issue of priority of use – if the marks and the products are very similar, i.e., both are alcoholic beverages – the party with first commercial use will have priority and will likely be entitled to register the trademark. One of the fundamental elements used to prove first-use for alcohol products and to establish priority over other users is the date on which a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”) was issued. As most alcoholic beverage producers and importers are aware, a COLA is required before alcohol products can be legally imported or sold in the U.S.  Sales of such products without a COLA would constitute an illegal sale under 27 CFR 4.50 (wine) 5.51 (distilled spirits) and 7.41 (beer). Because sales of a product without a COLA are not legal sales, they do not constitute bona fide use in commerce and may not be relied upon in establishing trademark priority. At least, that’s what many of us thought. But a recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) suggests otherwise.

In an opposition proceeding involving the PARLAY trademark, both parties were using the same trademark on wines and the parties disagreed on who had priority. The opposer argued that the earliest use date relied on by the other party was actually before the labels had been issued a COLA; therefore, they were unlawful and did not count for trademark priority. But the TTAB ruled against the opposer, noting that even if sales without a COLA were not strictly compliant with the federal labeling regulations, that was not sufficient to deny that user priority rights. Rather, the opposing party is required to show either: (1) that a court or regulatory body had made a formal determination of non-compliance, or (2) that the improper usage was so “tainted” it could not create trademark rights. In other words, if the labels were otherwise approvable and not misleading or deceptive to consumers, sales of those products without a COLA may still be used to establish priority, even though not technically legal. In the PARLAY case, the TTAB also noted the Draconian result of denying priority because of a regulatory lapse occurring several years before. The TTAB decision is non-precedential, so it’s not binding and future decisions of the TTAB may come out differently. But for those of us who frequently scan the TTB COLA registry to determine trademark priority, this decision is of great interest.

For trademark or COLA help, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·

TTB Maintains Strict Requirements for Organic Labeling Claims

August 24th, 2011

Ever wonder whether the claim that a wine uses “organic grapes” is really true?  Wine is one area where if such claims make their way onto a wine bottle, they are almost certainly valid, as the TTB and the National Organic Program (“NOP”) maintain extremely strict requirements for organic claims on the label.  The NOP has four primary categories for alcoholic beverages: 1) “100% Organic,” 2) “Organic,” meaning at least 95% organic and with no chemically added sulfites, 3) “Made with Organic [ingredients],” requiring at least 70% organic ingredients and may contain chemically added sulfites, and 4) for certain products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients, the ingredients statement may disclose the organic components.

In order to make any organic claims on a wine bottle or other alcohol label, TTB requires several sources of verification, making for a comprehensive but arduous application process.  Along with the items normally required for label approval, applicants must first provide a Processor’s or Handler’s Operation Certificate, which certifies that the winery uses accepted NOP standards. This is often referred to by the TTB as the “organic certificate.”  Notably, imported wines sometimes have difficulty meeting this requirement because foreign certifications are only sufficient if the foreign entity is also a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent.  Next, applicants must provide an Accredited Certifying Agent Preview, which indicates that the label has been reviewed and found to be in compliance with TTB rules.  Additionally, applicants may need to provide a crop certificate that certifies that the agricultural produce used in the product were grown to NOP standards.

The TTB also has specific rules for the label itself, including requiring a “certification statement,” which includes the name of the accredited certifying agent.  These requirements must be repeated for each vintage year, as labels for new vintages must be resubmitted for approval.

Notably, despite these strict requirements for organic wine labels, other statements on wine bottles that pertain to farming techniques and other “green” claims are largely unregulated by the TTB.  However, this is a fast-evolving area, so stay tuned.

If you need assistance with organic labels, the attorneys at Strike & Techel are familiar with the process and able to help.

UPDATE: On June 12, 2012, the TTB announced a change to the organic documentation requirements. A copy of the organic certificate is no longer required to accompany COLA applications for alcoholic beverages with “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic (ingredients)” on their labels.  The Accredited Certifying Agent Preview is still required. Please eee the TTB release, available here, for additional information.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2010-2012 · All Rights Reserved ·