Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Alcohol Labels Under Obama Administration?

Quick post, as I have an Antitrust final tomorrow. The TTB is getting increased pressure to add the alcoholic beverage equivalent of Nutrition Labels to all beer, wine and alcohol sold in the US. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking can be found here, you can comment if you want to. Here's the proposal:
TTB proposes to amend its regulations to require a statement of alcohol content, expressed as a percentage of alcohol by volume, on all alcohol beverage products. This statement may appear on any label affixed to the container. TTB also proposes to require a Serving Facts panel on alcohol beverage labels, which would include a statement of calories, carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Industry members may also choose to disclose on the Serving Facts panel the number of U.S. fluid ounces of pure alcohol (ethyl alcohol) per serving as part of a statement that includes alcohol content expressed as a percentage of alcohol by volume. The proposed regulations would also specify new reference serving sizes for wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages base on the amount of beverage customarily consumed as a single serving. However, TTB is not defining a standard drink in this document. We proposed to make these new requirements mandatory three years after the date of publication of a final rule on these matters. TTB proposes these amendments to ensure that alcohol beverage labels provide consumers with adequate information about the product.
The labels might look something like this:

(Image from this article at WSU.)

As you can see the alcohol %, serving size, and calories are displayed. This could cause trouble for some 'lite' beers, which typically still have around 100 calories and some carbs. Very interesting...

Also, though a cocktail might have more calories, it won't have a label when it's served to you. Could this hurt bottle sales? "OMiGod, did you know Miller Lite has 96 calories!?! I'm going to have a Cosmo..." (140 or so calories)

Finally, since the TTB is not defining a standard 'drink', could someone like Dogfish put a "Servings Per Container: 4" on one of their big beers, like World Wide Stout or 120 Minute IPA? After all, 120 Minute weighs in at 450 calories a bottle! (Not that we care...) Or could Miller Lite put that on and claim "Only 24 calories a (4oz) serving!"

More at Bevlog.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Alcopop stings throughout Florida

On December 5th the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco conducted a statewide sting operation on the sale of so-called "Alcopops" to minors. Investigative Aides under 21 were sent in to attempt to purchase malt-beverages (think Smirnoff Ice, Sparkz, Mike's Hard Lemonade, etc.) Naturally Miami rang in at the lowest compliance rate, 58%, with 14 'arrests' (actually a Notice to Appear, coupled with a stern talking to) out of 33 businesses inspected. The statewide rate was 76% compliance.

Alcopops are complicated, because they walk the fine line between targeting underage drinkers and meeting the demands of an emerging niche market. Also their dubious status as 'malt beverages' can have certain tax and advertising benefits, which is why there isn't actually Smirnoff in your Smirnoff Ice. Often, they are nearly indistinguishable from other energy drinks or soft drinks, hence the emphasis on education for the retailers in these raids.

The Lehrman Bevlog has an interesting post about some recent labels for one of these products, where the label of Tilt has switched from listing caffeine and guarana as ingredients, to simply 'natural flavors'. It's obvious that is to avoid the scrutiny being given to these drinks by state AGs. See this earlier post. The question remains, does this still have caffeine in it? And what about people who are allergic to it?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Repeal of Prohibition Day!

Seventy-five years ago today, December 5th, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified and the national experiment in Prohibition officially came to an end. Interestingly Utah was the final state needed to ratify the amendment, though Mississippi would be the last to do so, in 1966.

This didn't end prohibition for everyone of course. National prohibition was over, but around 2/3 of the states elected to exercise their "local option" to allow voters to choose to remain dry, and for a time around of 1/3 of the population of the U.S. chose to do so, either on a state, county or local level. Even today dozens of dry counties remain, including, famously, Moore County, Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniel's Distillery.

Here in Florida there are five dry counties, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee and Washington County. What's most interesting about the dry county phenomenon is the interaction between state and local governments. In many states it's actually illegal for a city or county to go dry, meaning control of alcohol policy is firmly within the state's hands. For example, Oregon's Liquor Control Act, is "designed to operate uniformly throughout the state," and replaces and supersedes "any and all municipal charter enactments or local ordinances inconsistent with it." Others are simply given the option, for example New York allows local municipalities to exercise the option via a public referendum. In others control is handled almost entirely on a local basis. North Carolina may have the most complicated system, setting up dozens of independent local boards to create and administer alcohol policy within their small jurisdictions.

Well, here's to the diamond aniversary of the 21st Amendment! Now back to studying for my Intellectual Property final...
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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.