Alcohol Advertising 101

June 12, 2017

With news last week that the NFL will now be allowing distilled spirits suppliers to advertise during televised football games, it is a good time for a reminder about some of the special issues that come up when advertising alcohol.

Under federal law, there are several rules that regulate the advertising of alcohol by suppliers. The main one is that advertisements must include mandatory information about the responsible advertiser and about the product. If a supplier is advertising all of its brands, the only information needed is the advertiser’s name and address, as approved on its federal permit. If a single brand is being advertised, its class and type must appear, and a distilled spirits ad must also show the alcohol content of the product, and the percent and type of any neutral spirits it contains. The federal laws, and many state laws, also have general restrictions around legibility, comparative advertising, and around certain prohibited statements, including, for example, health claims or obscene or indecent statements. Advertising laws prevent the use of a supplier advertisement to provide something of value to a retail licensee, e.g., by giving information about retailers other than a basic mention of where to find the supplier’s products, including at least two, unaffiliated retailers. Suppliers and retailers cannot cooperate or share in the costs of advertising.

At the state and local level, other concerns include things like the direct mailing or televising of alcohol advertisements, and advertising of pricing or discounting on products. A number of states require alcohol ads to be preapproved by the regulators there before they can be published. Many states will not allow any listing or mention of retailers in advertisements unless all known retailers of the product are mentioned.

It is important to be aware of what exactly constitutes an advertisement. Don’t forget that social media posts by a brand are also subject to advertising rules. Third party posts by influencers and others are also ads, and are subject to Federal Trade Commission guidelines on making sure that readers know that the placement of the brand’s name was paid for. The same goes for sweepstakes and other competitions run by brands, where it must be clear in the post that a consumer has been incentivized to post content on their own social media pages in return for a chance to win a prize. The FTC recently sent letters to dozens of brands and influencers, warning that “material connections” between influencers and brands must be disclosed in social media posts promoting the brands. This suggests that the FTC is focused on the issue and could take enforcement action against companies that fail to comply.

Each of the major supplier industry trade groups (Beer Institute, Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council) maintain voluntary compliance guidelines for advertising in the alcohol industry. These guides contain recommendations related to making sure that target audiences are over 21, that actors appear to be well over 21, and which recommend limiting certain content, for example, ads that encourage overconsumption or suggest that drinking leads to sporting or other success. The guides are extremely useful reading for all industry members, even if they are not members of the association in question.

If you are looking for specific guidance on alcohol advertising, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


Off-Premise Retail Caps - Are They Constitutional?

May 02, 2017

A South Carolina law preventing an entity from holding an interest in more than three off-premise retail liquor licenses was deemed unconstitutional earlier this year. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted an argument by Total Wines & More that the state’s cap on liquor stores had no legitimate basis. Numerous bills had been filed with the state legislature over recent years to have the cap overturned, but without success. The Supreme Court majority, however, found that the state had not offered a persuasive argument on why the restriction was a proper use of its general police power. The only justification provided by the state in the case was that the law was designed to support small businesses, and preserve the right of small, independent liquor dealers to do business, which the court identified as simple economic protectionism.

A number of other states have caps on ownership of retail off-premise liquor licenses, particularly across the Northeast. Similar laws have survived constitutional challenges in states like New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. In these states, justifications for these laws have included reasons such as intensifying the dangers of liquor sales stimulation through retail concentration, preventing monopolies, avoiding indiscriminate price-cutting and excessive advertising, and discouraging absentee ownership. The success of the suit in South Carolina is likely to encourage a new wave of challenges to these laws, as the chain stores focus more efforts on expansion of their model in the region. The ongoing legislative and judicial dispute between Total Wine & More and the State of Connecticut, for example, on the statutory minimum pricing restrictions there, follows a similar path of seeking to open up a market more friendly to chain store liquor retail.

Since the decision was handed down on March 29, the South Carolina Senate has already approved a move to legislate around it, by passing an amendment to the state budget. The change would delay the implementation of the court’s decision for a year, and would require an applicant for a fourth store to pay the equivalent of a year’s gross sales from one of its current stores before it could get the new license. The amendment now passes to the General Assembly for consideration. In the interim, the state has publicly said
that they are accepting liquor store applications in light of the new ruling.

It goes without saying that the elimination of the retail cap in South Carolina is likely to significantly alter the retail liquor landscape there, and that other similar decisions in other states would affect the retail market nationwide. If you want more information on retail liquor licensing, please contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


Michigan Relaxes Labeling and Shipping Requirements for Direct-to-Consumer Wine Shipments

March 13, 2017

Recently, we posted about Michigan Senate Bill 1088 here (“SB 1088”), which expands the delivery privileges of in-state retailers, and which authorizes third party providers and common carriers to assist with shipping and delivery on behalf of in-state retailers, subject to certain limitations. SB 1088 also amends Michigan’s winery direct-to-consumer shipping law, Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1203(4). The revisions relax the labeling and packaging requirements for direct winery shipments, which will be welcome news to direct winery shippers as the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (“MLCC”) has actively enforced these labeling and packaging requirements in recent years.

As of March 29, 2017, wineries no longer need to include their direct shipper license number or the order number on the outside label of each package shipped into Michigan. Direct shippers will still be required to label the top panel of the shipping package with the name and address of the individual placing the order and the name of the designated recipient, if different from the person placing the order. The outside label must also state “Contains Alcohol. Must be delivered to a person 21 years of age or older.” Inside each package to be shipped, the invoice or packing slip is no longer required to list the Michigan wine label registration number of approval for each wine shipped, although wineries will still be required to register their wine labels with the MLCC.

SB 1088 also establishes new rules for common carriers. Common carriers acting on behalf of winery direct shipper licensees are subject to new recordkeeping and reporting requirements, as detailed in our prior post regarding SB 1088.

If your winery is in need of assistance regarding direct shipping laws, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


Michigan Senate Bill 1088: New Rules on Shipping & Delivery for Retailers and Third Party Providers

March 01, 2017

On January 9, 2017, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed Senate Bill 1088 (“SB 1088”) into law, which revises Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1203. SB 1088 amends direct-to-consumer shipping laws for wineries and retailers, but most notably expands in-state retailer privileges to ship and deliver wine and beer – and in some cases spirits – directly to consumers in the state of Michigan. This post will focus on the changes SB 1088 makes with respect to retail shipping and delivery and use of third party providers (“TPPs”) and common carriers. The law takes effect on March 29, 2017.

Retailer Shipping and Delivery

Prior to SB 1088, retailer shipping and delivery options were limited. Only retailers in Michigan that held Specially Designated Merchant (“SDM”) licenses were allowed to deliver beer and wine to Michigan consumers, provided the delivery was made by the retailer’s employee. SB 1088 allows several additional methods of retailer shipping and delivery. Shipment by common carrier and use of a TPP are now permissible in some circumstances. Additionally, Specially Designated Distributor (“SDD”) retail licensees may also now deliver spirits to Michigan consumers. Once SB 1088 goes into effect, the following retail shipping and delivery methods will be permissible:

Retailer Shipping and Delivery

Third Party Providers

As explained above, SB 1088 allows in-state SDM and SDD retailers to use third-party providers to facilitate sales and delivery to Michigan consumers. The law allows a “third party facilitator service” (or, TPP) to facilitate sales and delivery to consumers by means of the internet or a mobile application. SB 1088 requires a TPP to obtain a “third party facilitator service license” from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (“MLCC”), and imposes recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Once licensed, a TPP may make deliveries of beer and wine on behalf of a SDM retailer, or spirits on behalf of a SDD retailer. Interestingly, SB 1088 provides that a violation by a licensed TPP will not be considered a violation of the retailer (whereas in most states the violation will be imputed to the retailer).

It appears that the new TPP license will be considered a relative to a retail license, as SB 1088 contains tied house restrictions prohibiting manufacturers, suppliers, and wholesalers from directly or indirectly having any interest in a TPP licensee and from aiding or assisting a TPP licensee with anything of value. TPPs must also offer their services to all brands of each retailer without discrimination.

Common Carriers

SB 1088 also permits common carriers to deliver wine on behalf of SDM retailers. There is no license requirement, but SB 1088 requires common carriers to keep records of deliveries and file quarterly reports with the MLCC. The reports, records, and supporting documents must be kept for three years, and must include: (1) the name and address of the person shipping the product; (2) the name and address of the person receiving the product; (3) the weight of the alcoholic beverages delivered; and (4) the date of delivery.

For more information about the recent changes to Michigan law, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.


Changes to Federal Excise Tax Bond Requirements – Do You Still Need a TTB Bond?

January 17, 2017

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (the “PATH Act”) took effect on January 1st, 2017. The PATH Act changes the bond requirements for some TTB-permitted producers that are liable for excise taxes on distilled spirits, wine, and beer. Currently, all producers are required to file a bond covering operations and withdrawals of spirits, wine, and beer. The PATH Act provides that producers that reasonably expect not to owe more than $50,000 in excise taxes during the year are no longer required to have a bond on file with the TTB. Beginning this year, a new applicant that indicates that they do not expect to owe more than $50,000 in excise taxes during the first calendar year will not be required to submit a bond with the permit application. Also, an existing producer may request termination of its bond requirement by filing an amendment to its permit, which the TTB will process only after the producer has submitted excise tax returns, payments, and reports for 2016, so that the TTB can determine the producer’s eligibility to terminate its bond. The chart below provides examples of production volumes that would result in annual excise taxes of less than $50,000, meaning that producers under those volumes would not be required to file a bond with the TTB covering operations.

The TTB has issued Industry Circular 2016-2 with more information, and will publish regulations to implement the above statutory changes in the near future. For more information regarding the PATH Act and TTB bond requirements, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for further guidance.


Strike & Techel Welcomes Tom Kerr as a Partner.

January 09, 2017

The partners at Strike & Techel are pleased to announce the elevation of Tom Kerr from Senior Associate to Partner in the firm! Tom spent his first few years after law school practicing commercial litigation, but once he joined Strike & Techel in 2011, he quickly realized alcohol law was much more fun. Tom’s diverse practice includes advising supplier and retailer clients on trade practice issues, distribution, promotions, advertising, marketing, and tied-house issues. Tom has particular expertise in ecommerce and he advises many third party providers and others on emerging industry practices. If you have questions in these areas, or regarding foreign travel, the Denver Broncos, or Star Wars, Tom’s probably got the answers.

To learn more about Tom and Strike & Techel, visit us at www.alcohol.law.


Governor Cuomo Vetoes Empire Wine Bill (Again)

November 15, 2016

On November 4, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed Assembly Bill 10248 (AB 10248). This is the second time in two years that Governor Cuomo has vetoed a bill seeking to amend the state’s alcohol laws to clarify the basis upon which the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) can revoke, suspend or cancel a license or permit.

AB 10248 would have prevented the SLA from taking disciplinary action against licensees for violations of other states’ alcoholic beverage laws unless the alleged violation independently violated a provision of NY law, or the other state had determined that a violation had occurred after providing the accused with full due process of law; the SLA could not take action based on a mere allegation of a violation in another state. AB 10248 would have specifically permitted the SLA to take action against licensees for knowingly making alcohol sales to minors or failing to pay taxes in other states, but presumably the other state still would have had to prove liability before the SLA could act.

AB 10248 stems from the SLA’s ongoing battle with Empire Wine. In 2014, the SLA alleged that Empire Wine was violating other states’ laws by direct shipping wine to consumers in a number of states that prohibit direct shipping by out-of-state retailers. In Governor Cuomo’s veto memo, he reasoned that the veto ensured that licensees would abide by New York’s alcohol laws and prevent a “regulatory gap” in which retailers could violate other states’ laws without repercussions in New York.


World’s Best Alcohol Law Blog Gets New Name!

November 07, 2016

Our regular readers will notice that our blog has a new name: Alcohol.law Digest. We’ve been posting topical information about the legalities of the alcoholic beverage industry on our Imbibe-Blog (aka Imbiblog) webpage for six years and we felt like it was time for a change. Going forward, we’ll continue posting about the topics we think will be interesting and important to our readers, but we’ll do it under a name everyone can pronounce! Farewell Imbiblog (or is it Im-BEE-blog?) and welcome Alcohol.law Digest!


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