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TTB Allows Beer Returns Based on Freshness Dating

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 ·

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