In May 2021, the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ("TTB") issued guidance and helpful tips for alcoholic beverage companies seeking quicker product label approvals. Because applications for certificates of label approval, or COLAs, are often rejected or returned to applicants due to easily avoidable issues, the TTB provided a series of tips to help applicants thwart any issues before they arise.
Why are COLAs necessary?
As background, a COLA authorizes the holder to bottle and remove (or import) an alcoholic beverage product that bears the label shown on the COLA. The regulatory goal for requiring COLAs is to provide comfort to the consumer that an alcoholic beverage product being consumed is properly described directly on the product's container.
What are the general requirements for a successful COLA application?
COLA requirements differ depending on whether the alcoholic beverage product at issue is a wine, a malt beverage, or a distilled spirit. For example, malt beverage labels (such as those for beer and flavored malt beverages such as hard seltzer) generally must contain the following categories of information:
- Brand Name: the central indicator to the consumer of the malt beverage's identity.
- Draft/Draught: "Draft" on a malt beverage label usually means that the product has not been pasteurized (unless otherwise indicated)
- Class Designation: malt beverages can be categorized under a wide variety of designations depending on how they are crafted. Examples include beer, ale, lager, stout, and porter.
- Name and Address: each label generally must include the name and address of the bottler or importer.
- Alcohol Content: interestingly, a malt beverage label does not require that alcohol content be expressed on a malt beverage label; a listing of the product's alcoholic percentage by volume ("ABV") is optional at the TTB level.
- Light/Lite: a Light or Lite designation may be used on a malt beverage level provided that a supporting statement of average analysis also appears on the label.
- Net Contents:the volume of the product in the container, expressed in English units of measure (such as fluid ounces).
- Country of Origin: required on containers of imported malt beverages.
- Health Warning Statement: a standard statement is required on all alcoholic beverage labels (not just malt beverage labels) containing .5% or more ABV.
What are some common COLA missteps?
- Net Contents Statement
- Lack of Supporting Documentation
- Specialty Inclusions
A common misstep on COLA applications is that the net contents are incorrectly stated. As a result, the TTB issues mandatory requirements for how the net contents statement must appear, summarized in the beer/malt beverage net contents statements chart.
In addition, applicants must be sure to state "fluid ounces" or "fl. oz." when referring to ounces.
Another common issue is that applicants fail to submit the necessary supporting documentation. For example, if an applicant submits a COLA application for a beverage containing an ingredient made from more than one component, the applicant must submit an ingredient specification sheet describing the contents of that ingredient. Also, should the beverage in question be made with a compounded (manufactured) flavor, cloudifier, or blender, the applicant must submit a flavor ingredient data sheet (which contains key information about the ingredients in these components) and a limited ingredient calculation worksheet (which calculates the total amount of TTB and FDA limited ingredients present in the beverage).
Applicants should also be aware of the need to include certain specialty disclosures on their COLAs, including with respect to organic claims and allergens. These inclusions often require a specialized review of TTB requirements along with those from other federal government agencies, including the US Department of Agriculture ("USDA") and the US Food and Drug Administration ("FDA"). A prime example of one such TTB mislabeling issue occurred in 2010, when the TTB determined that alcoholic beverages containing caffeine were mislabeled given that the FDA considered caffeine to be an unsafe food additive that rendered the products "adulterated" under federal law.
In light of these potential pitfalls and specialty considerations, COLA applicants should consider seeking legal counsel before starting the application process to ensure they submit comprehensive, correct, and complete documentation the first time.