In the latest in a string of cases alleging misleading advertising of alcoholic beverages, a federal court in California recently refused to dismiss a case against Craft Brew Alliance, Inc. (“CBA”), makers of Kona Brewing Company beer. Broomfield v. Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., No. 17-cv-01027-BLF (Sept. 1, 2017). You’ve probably seen the products – they are all Hawaiian-themed, with names like Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, Hanalei Island IPA, etc. Kona Brewing Company does have a brewery in Hawaii, but the only beer produced there is draft beer to be sold in Hawaii. All of the bottled and canned product, and draft sold outside of Hawaii, is brewed at CBA’s breweries in OR, WA, NH and TN. The plaintiffs alleged that they were misled by the product packaging and believed the products were produced in Hawaii. Had they known that the products were brewed on the US mainland, they claim they would not have bought them or would not have been willing to pay as much for them. They brought claims based on violations of California’s unfair competition and false advertising statutes, as well as breach of warranty, fraud, intentional misrepresentation, etc., and are attempting to get the case certified as a class action. The CBA filed a motion to dismiss, relying in part on previous cases involving Red Stripe and Sapporo where plaintiffs had claimed the product packaging misrepresented the origin of the beers. Those cases were dismissed because the allegedly misleading statements on the labels were “vague and meaningless” and not likely to deceive a reasonable consumer into believing the beers were made in Jamaica or Japan, respectively. Moreover, the packaging clearly indicated where the beers were made. CBA argued in this case that the references to Hawaii were either true, or were “mere puffery,” and not likely to deceive a reasonable consumer. The court said it would have dismissed the complaint against CBA if the only allegedly misleading references to Hawaii were pictures of surfboards and Hawaiian imagery, and vague language like “Liquid Aloha.” But the packaging on these products went further, and included a map of Hawaii that showed the location of the Kona brewery, with the statement “visit our brewery and pubs when you are in Hawaii.” Further, the references to the other US breweries where the beers are made only appears on the can/bottle labels, not on the outer packaging, so it would not have been visible to a consumer purchasing a 12-pack, for example. And the only visible address on the outer packaging was an address in Kona, Hawaii. The court held that those were “specific and measurable representations of fact” that could be sufficient to deceive a reasonable consumer. Exactly what can and cannot be said on product packaging without being misleading is not a black-and-white test – courts apply a reasonableness standard, which necessarily involves some subjectivity. In the Kona Brewing case, the court noted that references to Hawaii and its culture generally, and language that evokes the “spirit” of Hawaii or that claim the beer is “Hawaiian-style” wouldn’t have been actionable. The court’s decision was only at the motion to dismiss stage, and does not mean that the CBA’s Kona Brewing company packaging will ultimately be found misleading. But this decision illustrates that not all packaging statements will be allowed as mere “puffery,” so suppliers would be wise to consider carefully references to locations and cultures different than the location where the products are produced. Strike & Techel will follow this case, and will post future updates on this blog. If you have any questions about alcohol labeling, packaging, or advertising, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
Recently, the TTB published Industry Circular No. 2017-2, providing guidance for producers of hard cider. This guidance details the new criteria for the hard cider tax rate, which went into effect on January 1st of this year. We addressed those changes, as well as the old criteria for the hard cider tax rate, on our prior blog post, “Federal Definition of “Hard Cider” Will Be Expanded in 2017”. As a recap, the current definition of hard cider eligible for the lower hard cider tax rate, is a product that meets the following criteria:
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.
The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) recently released final industry guidance on the new menu labeling requirements in accordance with 21 C.F.R. § 101.11, implemented to comply with a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The new menu labeling rules require chain restaurants to provide calorie information on the menu and provide, upon customer request, additional nutritional information for menu items. The FDA’s final guidance can be found here, and will help industry members comply with these new menu labeling rules, which the FDA will begin to enforce in May 2017. This blog post provides a summary of the menu labeling rules and the FDA’s industry guidance. What businesses must comply? The new menu labeling rules apply to restaurants or similar retail food establishments, such as a bakery, a convenience store selling foods intended for immediate consumption, or a concession stand, that are a part of a chain with 20 or more locations that do business under the same trade name and that offer substantially the same menu items for sale. Additionally, a restaurant or retail food establishment may voluntarily register to be subject to the menu labeling requirements. What is required of those businesses? Under the new menu labeling rules, these businesses will be required to include calorie information on menus for all standard menu items. Additionally, these businesses will be required to have written information available upon customer request, regarding nutritional information for standard menu items, including the amount of total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein. These requirements apply to standard menu items, and do not apply to daily specials, custom orders, alcoholic beverages on display that are not self-service, or temporary menu items that only appear on the menu for less than sixty days per calendar year. Are alcoholic beverages included? Yes, the new menu labeling rules apply to alcoholic beverages sold in a restaurant or similar retail food establishment that is required or has registered to comply with the menu labeling rules. The rules apply to all alcoholic beverages that are listed on the establishment’s menu, subject to the exceptions for daily specials, custom orders, alcoholic beverages on display that are not self-service, or temporary menu items that only appear on the menu for less than sixty days per calendar year. The exception for alcoholic beverages on display that are not self-service will be helpful for establishments preparing mixed drinks. If the liquor bottles are on display, and the drinks are not listed on the menu, the establishment will not be required to make available calorie or other nutritional information. How can calorie and nutrient information for alcoholic beverage products be obtained? An establishment must have a “reasonable basis” for determining the calorie and other nutritional information for standard menu items. Establishing a “reasonable basis” may include utilizing nutrient databases, published cookbooks that contain nutritional information for recipes in the cookbook, nutrition information determined by laboratory analyses, or any other means that is reasonable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) maintains a nutrient database, available here, which the FDA’s guidance refers to as reasonable basis for calorie and nutrient calculations. How will alcoholic beverage producers be affected? The new menu labeling regulations will impact all alcoholic beverage producers that sell products to chain establishments with 20 or more locations. Those establishments will likely request that the alcoholic beverage producer provide the calorie and nutritional information for its products sold at the establishment. As most alcoholic beverages are not subject to the FDA rules governing labeling and nutritional information, this law will mainly affect alcoholic beverage producers that do not currently maintain calorie or nutritional information regarding the beverages that they produce. Alcoholic beverage producers should check the USDA database referenced above to see whether their products match entries currently listed in the database, as the database includes entries for several common types of alcoholic beverages. Additionally, the Brewers Association has announced that it will be running laboratory analyses for approximately 100 beer styles over the next year, which the Brewers Association plans to submit for inclusion in the USDA database. Alternatively, producers could submit their products for laboratory analyses in order to obtain accurate nutritional information. For more information about menu and product labeling requirements, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for a consultation.
Just over a year ago, a class action was filed in California against a group of six winery defendants, producing 83 named wine brands, alleging that the wines contained unsafe levels of arsenic (Charles et al. vs. The Wine Group, Inc., et al, No. BC576061). The case triggered numerous articles about wine potentially being unsafe for consumption. On March 23, 2016, the Los Angeles Superior Court sustained a demurrer by the wineries defending the claim, and dismissed the action. The plaintiffs did not allege actual harm from exposure to arsenic; rather, they asserted that the non-disclosure of trace arsenic constituted a breach of California’s “Prop 65” labeling and consumer notification requirements. The court disagreed. All claims against the wineries were dismissed. Due to its presence in soil and ground water, virtually all food and beverages contain trace elements of arsenic. There is no US regulation setting a maximum quantity of arsenic that may be present in either food or wine, although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does have a limit for inorganic arsenic in drinking water, at 0.01mg per liter. Other countries regulate arsenic levels in wine. For example, the European Union adopted a maximum of 0.2mg per liter, a standard set by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). In Canada, there is a maximum limit of 0.1mg/liter of wine. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), one of the world’s largest wine purchasers, conducts regular testing of wines from all over the world, including some of the wines identified in the lawsuit, and all were below the regulatory limit for arsenic. Shortly after the original claim was filed in this matter, UC Davis published a very helpful factsheet about arsenic contamination, which can be found HERE for more information. Around the time of the original California state case, nearly identical arsenic lawsuits were also filed in federal courts in Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico, with a long list of additional defendants. Those lawsuits were each dismissed without prejudice, and are not affected by the decision in California. The California plaintiffs have said they plan to continue to pursue their case, indicating that an appeal may be forthcoming. For more information about the case, or about California wine labeling generally, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.
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 ·
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