Federal and state menu and product labeling regulations are a hot-button issue in the food and beverage industry as they respond to a growing demand for transparency in order to empower consumers to make responsible and well-informed decisions about the products they choose to purchase and enjoy.

On July 12, 2016, the Beer Institute announced its “Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative” to encourage industry members to voluntarily display certain nutritional information on their products, packages, and websites.  The Beer Institute is a major American beer industry trade association that represents both large and small brewers, as well as importers and industry suppliers. The Beer Institute members produce more than 81% of the beer sold in the United States, including industry giants such as Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, HeinekenUSA.  As a result, this Initiative could have a significant impact on how beer is consumed in the United States.

Specifically, the Initiative encourages its members to do the following:

  1. Provide calorie, carbohydrate, protein, fat, and alcohol concentration information [either alcohol by volume (“ABV”) or alcohol by weight (“ABW”), as required by state law] on all labels in the form of a serving facts statement consistent with the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (“TTB”) guidelines.
  2. Disclose ingredients in products on either the label or secondary packaging via a list of ingredients, a reference to a website with the information, or a QR code.
  3. Display a freshness date or date of production on all labels or primary containers. 1?

Previously, alcohol beverage companies were not permitted to list this type of nutritional information.  However, a 2013 TTB Ruling allowed industry members to add nutritional facts, including calorie and carbohydrate content, to their labeling and advertising.2

This act of self-regulation has become standard in the alcohol beverage industry, as reflected in industry trade association guidance documents like the Beer Institute’s Advertising & Marketing Code. Moreover, this most recent Initiative may be a direct response to the Federal Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”)’s increased regulation of other related industries.  For example, starting December 1, 2016, FDA will enforce a provision of the Affordable Care Act through its Menu Labeling Final Rule that requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to disclose certain nutritional information on menu items, including beer products that are available for self-service or as standard menu items. Although the Menu Labeling regulations only apply to covered retail entities, rather than beer manufacturers, the beer industry may be trying to prevent further regulatory intrusion through spearheading its own internal efforts to self-regulate in the context of disclosing nutritional information to consumers.  

Depending on whether a company is involved in manufacturing beer or selling it at retail, new nutritional information disclosure statements must be considered to ensure regulatory compliance and comport behavior to industry standards.  The compliance deadline for the Menu Labeling Final Rule was extended to December 1, 2016, while the Beer Institute’s Initiative goes into effect immediately, with the goal of achieving compliance by the end of 2020.