The Conkle Firm’s “Spa Weekend” at the International Salon and Spa Expo

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On January 27th and 28th, 2018, attorneys from Conkle, Kremer & Engel attended the International Salon and Spa Expo (ISSE), which is hosted annually by the Professional Beauty Association (PBA).  At ISSE, CK&E attorneys met with clients and other beauty professionals to help them expand their business frontiers and address concerns about intellectual property, regulatory compliance, and  contractual relations.  CK&E attorneys also relished the opportunity to observe first-hand the latest trends and exciting new spa and cosmetic products.

Sheet masks and other Korean beauty products continued to be as popular as they have been in the past few years. But more palpable this year at ISSE was the recent movement towards “inclusive beauty,” emphasizing a range of culturally enlightened products that appeal to a wider range of consumers of different ethnicities, ages, genders and abilities.  Exhibitors displayed a wide range of products intended for people with all skin and hair types and colors.  Many brands showcased hypoallergenic and natural products with few ingredients, suitable for use on consumers with allergies or medical conditions.  There were also more personal care products geared towards men than there have been in previous years.

ISSE offered a wide array of complimentary educational programs related to the beauty industry, including classes regarding the importance of social media presence for artists and brands.  CK&E attorneys remain ready to provide their clients with legal assistance in the ever-changing world of social media by keeping up to date on developments in social media.  At ISSE, attorneys Evan Pitchford and Desiree Ho attended “Getting It Right On Instagram,” a seminar hosted by long-time beauty industry executive and social media guru Gordon Miller, CEO of Hairbrained, an online community for craft hairdressers and colorists to connect and share their work.

For next year, PBA has already announced that it will launch STYL on January 26-28, 2019, a new event that PBA promises is not an expo or convention, but rather “STYL is an experience where the leaders, learners, students, owners and the beauty industry come together from across the country.”

CK&E is proud to be a member of the PBA and other professional beauty organizations, and is delighted to be in its third decade of helping domestic and international businesses of all sizes grow and evolve to meet their goals in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Desiree Ho, Glen Pacek, Karl Sweis and Evan Pitchford at Sweis Moroccanoil booth

CK&E attorneys Mark Kremer and Amanda Washton sample industry trends at ISSE

Gordon Miller (far right) of Hairbrained moderates Instagram panel

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Prop 65 Trouble is Brewing for Coffee Sellers

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A brewing case spells trouble for coffee shops in California.  Coffee sellers including Starbucks, Target and Whole Foods are in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit with the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) over the presence of acrylamide in coffee.

Acrylamide is on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals which California has declared are known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.  While acrylamide is not found in raw foods, the chemical can form in starchy and carbohydrate rich foods, such as potatoes, when cooked at high temperatures.  Acrylamide is a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process, and is formed when the sugars and amino acids of the coffee bean are heated.

CERT (associated with Raphael Metzger of the Metzger Law Group) is a well-known plaintiff in Prop 65 cases of this sort, and this is not the first time CERT has been involved in litigation over acrylamide in food and drink products.  Acrylamide was added to the Proposition 65 list in 1990 based on studies showing it as a potential carcinogen in industrial exposures.  In April 2002, a subsequent study by the Swedish National Food Administration revealed high levels of the chemical in various high carbohydrate foods which are cooked at high temperatures, including french fries, potato chips, crackers, and bread.  CERT filed suit that same year against McDonalds and Burger King over the presence of acrylamide in french fries.  The fast-food retailers eventually settled and agreed to post Prop 65 warnings.

Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has set the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) for acrylamide at 0.2 µg/day.  NSRL is the level of exposure at which chemicals on the Prop 65 list are deemed to pose no significant risk, and for which a Prop 65 warning is not required.  CERT v. Starbuck Corp., et al was originally filed in 2010 against 90 coffee sellers.  The suit claimed that defendants’ coffee contained 4-100x more acrylamide than the NSRL.  During the first phase of a two-phase bench trial, defendants argued that the level of acrylamide in their coffee products posed no significant risk because a multitude of studies show that coffee consumption does not increase the risk of cancer.  The court rejected this argument because the studies assessed the effects of coffee generally, as opposed to the presence of acrylamide in the coffee.  Defendants’ argument that requiring them to post a Prop 65 warning amounts to unconstitutional forced speech was also rejected.

The second phase of the trial began in September 2017.  During this bench trial, defendants argued that coffee is exempt from the NSRL standard, and rather an “alternative risk level” applies.  Proposition 65 allows for a higher “alternative risk level” to apply to chemicals produced in the process of cooking foods to make them palatable or safe.  Since acrylamide in coffee is naturally produced during the roasting process, Defendants argue that they are subject to this exemption.

A ruling is expected soon, and if CERT succeeds, California coffee sellers will be required to post Proposition 65 warnings.  Several coffee retailers who were initially named in the lawsuit have already posted warnings in their stores.  7-Eleven, who opted to settle the suit, agreed to post warnings and pay a $900,000 fee.  While Starbucks continues to challenge the suit, it has already posted warnings at its stores, presumably to limit damages it may have to pay if CERT succeeds at trial.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys will continue to monitor and report on the outcome of this case.  CK&E has many years of experience advising clients about Proposition 65 and other regulatory compliance issues they face.  Our attorneys help clients stay out of legal hot water by working with them to ensure their products continue to meet all legal requirements, and helping them plan for foreseeable changes in the law.

 

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The Conkle Firm Trending At Indie Beauty Expo

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Amanda Washton and Desiree Ho attended the Indie Beauty Expo in Los Angeles to take note of emerging trends in the beauty industry.  More than 100 brands exhibited their products at  this event, many of which recognized a key trend in the beauty market – consumers are becoming increasingly attentive to what is in their products and where their money is going.  Countless brands touted business practices such as sharing profits with charitable causes, as well as product features like “vegan,” “natural,” and “organic.”  The simpler the ingredient list, the better.  The product packaging and displays reflected this gravitation towards simplicity – minimalist typography, clean lines in the artwork, and monochromatic color schemes.

As more companies hop onboard the “organic” and “natural” train, beauty brands should be careful about their advertising and labeling to avoid drawing adverse attention of regulators and others policing the market.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has published multiple blog posts throughout the years concerning “natural” and “organic” product claims.  Selling “natural” products in California can be particularly hazardous without the right guidance – “natural” ingredients may be subject to Proposition 65, as CK&E has explained in the past.  Manufacturers would do well to remember that the California Supreme Court has warned, particularly in claims of organic contents, “labels matter.”

With decades of beauty industry experience helping companies grow and protect their businesses, CK&E attorneys routinely guide clients through the process of complying with Proposition 65 and other complex regulatory schemes.

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How Does Marijuana Legalization Affect Employer Workplace Policies?

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Do I have to change my drug-free workplace policy now that marijuana is legal?

On January 1, 2018, recreational marijuana became legal in California.  That raises a few questions, to put it mildly.  For California employers and employees, one of the first questions is, must employers change their drug-free workplace policies now that cannabis use is legal?

Generally speaking, the answer is no.  A California employer can still keep its drug-free workplace policy (as long as it was legally compliant before January 1) that prohibits the use of alcohol and drugs, including cannabis, in the workplace.  There is even a California Health and Safety Code statute protecting employers: The legalization of cannabis use “does not amend, repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt…[t]he rights and obligations of public and private employers to maintain a drug and alcohol free workplace or require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growth of cannabis in the workplace, or affect the ability of employers to have policies prohibiting the use of cannabis by employees and prospective employees, or prevent employers from complying with state or federal law.”

Does this mean I can terminate an employee who tests positive for cannabis?

Yes, if you have a zero-tolerance policy that provides for dismissal of employees who test positive for drugs.  An employer can keep its drug-free workplace policy and test employees for alcohol and drugs, including cannabis, in compliance with the law.  That means that an employer can refuse to hire an employee who tests positive for cannabis.  It also means that an employer can ask an employee to take a drug test when the employer reasonably suspects the employee is under the influence of any substances prohibited under the employer’s policy.  An employer can terminate an employee who refuses to take the test, or who tests positive for those prohibited substances, including cannabis.

What if the employee is using marijuana to treat a disability?

With all the medical leave and disability discrimination laws protecting employees with certain medical conditions, employers are also understandably nervous about terminating an employee who relies on medical marijuana.  For now, employers can rest easy.  Because federal law still prohibits cannabis use, both state and federal law refuse to protect the employee’s illegal drug use, even if the employee is using medical marijuana, with a prescription, to treat a medical condition.

Of course, cannabis law is quickly evolving.  From legalizing marijuana at the state level in parts of the country, to rescinding “hands-off policies” at the federal level that were intended to leave states to decide on the cannabis issue on their own, cannabis laws are subject to change.  Employers should keep a close eye on the interaction between federal and state laws on cannabis use, and be prepared to modify their drug policies as needed.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are experienced with counseling employers who face a constantly changing landscape of laws, ordinances, and regulations, and resolving employment issues as they arise.

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What’s in Your Packaging? Prop 65 Applies to PVDC

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Can your product wrap subject you to Proposition 65 warning requirements?  You bet.  California has added vinylidene chloride to its long list of chemicals to which Proposition 65 applies, effective on December 29, 2017.  The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has not established a safe harbor level for vinylidene chloride, although that remains under consideration.

Vinylidene chloride is used in the production of polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) copolymers. PVDC was developed by Dow Chemical Company, and was at one point used in the production of the popular food wrap product, Saran Wrap. PVDC has characteristics ideal for food packaging because it has low permeabiltiy to water vapor and gasses. While use of PVDC in Saran Wrap was later phased out due to cost and environmental concerns, other copolymers of vinylidene chloride are still commonly used in food packaging, including box overwrap, vertical form fill seal, horizontal form fill seal, and pre-made bags. Vinylidene chloride is also extensively used in a variety of other packing materials, as flame retardant coating for fiber and carpet backing and in piping, coating for steel pipes, and adhesive applications. Other common consumer products that may contain vinylidene chloride include cleaning cloths, filters, screens, tape, shower curtains, garden furniture, artificial turf, doll hair, stuffed animals, fabrics, fishnet, and shoe insoles.

Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are required to provide Prop 65 warnings to workers and consumers who are exposed to vinylidene chloride.  Companies have one year from the listing date to comply with Prop 65.  Companies that have not reformulated their products to remove vinylidene chloride, or that fail to provide a Proposition 65 warning on products containing it, by December 29, 2018 are at risk of receiving a “Notice of Violation” from private enforcers seeking to gain thousands of dollars in penalties and attorneys’ fees.  A Notice of Violation typically precedes a lawsuit for violation of Proposition 65.

The listing of vinylidene chloride as a chemical known to cause cancer by OEHHA is a reminder that not only product contents, but also packaging materials, are included within Prop 65 compliance requirements.  As we previously reported, since December 2014, products sold in California that contain diisononyl phthalate (DINP) have required a Proposition 65 warning.  DINP is found is many soft plastic and vinyl products, and purported violations have been found in seemingly innocuous packaging, such as gift bags for cosmetic products.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has many years of experience advising clients with respect to Proposition 65 and other regulatory compliance issues. CK&E attorneys help clients stay out of legal crosshairs by working with them to ensure their products continue to meet all legal requirements, and helping them plan for foreseeable changes in the law.

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Can Employers Ask, “So, What Did You Make?”

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A new law in California is squarely aimed at reducing historical wage disparity, particularly between male and female employees.  On January 1, 2018, a new law will take effect in California to prohibit employers from seeking “salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.”  The new law, Section 432.3 of the Labor Code, also requires employers to provide the pay scale of the position to the applicant upon reasonable request.

But even under this new law, employers can still access salary history information under certain circumstances.  Employers may review salary history information that is publicly available under federal or state law, including information that is obtainable under the California Public Records Act or the federal Freedom of Information Act.  Employers may also consider and rely on salary history information in determining the salary for that applicant, if the “applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses salary history information to a prospective employer….”  But, even when employers can rely on voluntarily disclosed salary information to set a particular salary, job applicants are still protected by California’s Equal Pay Act.  Any prior salary information about the applicant still cannot be used as the sole justification for “any disparity in compensation” for employees of different sexes, races, or ethnicities for “substantially similar work.”

It seems likely there will be a challenge to the constitutionality of the new restriction, most likely on free speech grounds.  Other states and municipalities have passed similar laws restricting employers from inquiring about salary history.  Philadelphia has a similar ordinance passed earlier this year to prohibit employers from asking an applicant about prior salaries and from relying on salary information unless that information was voluntarily disclosed by the applicant.  The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia filed a lawsuit, challenging the ordinance on several grounds, including “chilling” the protected speech of employers under the First Amendment, and violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because of the severe penalties employers risk incurring.  While this case is still pending, the Chamber of Commerce raises questions of constitutionality that could apply as well to California’s new law.

Employment laws change constantly at federal, state and local levels.  In preparation for the new year, employers should review the documents they use in the hiring process, including job applications and new hire documents, and remove questions pertaining to salary history.  Employers should also instruct any employees who may be interviewing applicants not to ask about an applicant’s salary history.  And, for each open position, employers should ensure pay scales are readily available to disclose in response to an applicant’s request.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are experienced at helping employers navigate the shifting maze of laws and regulations they face, and resolving employment issues as they arise.

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Counterfeits Can Take the Joy Out of the Holidays

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As the holiday shopping season reaches peak fervor and consumers seek out the best deals available on hot products, gift-givers are more at risk of purchasing counterfeit products of all kinds.  Recently, news articles have warned of counterfeit Fingerlings – the latest “it” toy – along with fake versions of popular electronics, clothing, personal care products, and many other types of goods.  Government bureaus like the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol regularly release holiday bulletins advising of the escalating volume of phony products entering the United States (for example, https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/buyer-beware-counterfeit-goods-and-holiday-shopping-season).  Counterfeits are far from harmless.  Not only are these counterfeit goods generally inferior to authentic products in both quality and safety, fake products are fraud, theft, and infringements of valuable trademarks and other intellectual property.  Sales of counterfeit products can even be criminal.

As a consumer, what can you do to help ensure you’re receiving the genuine article?  The most obvious method is to avoid unfamiliar sources and to buy directly from the manufacturer’s website or from an authorized retailer whenever possible.  If buying on websites like Amazon and eBay (where products are often actually sold by unrelated third parties), it helps to make sure that the seller of the product is the manufacturer or Amazon itself, not an unknown third party.  Often times, third party sellers do not have the ability or desire to properly perform checks on the goods they are selling, and in many cases the third party sellers never actually possess the products – when they receive your order they simply forward the product from a warehouse they have never even seen.  While outlets like Amazon and eBay have some anti-counterfeiting policies and procedures, experience has shown that not every fake product will be screened out.  Consumers should also check the price of the goods to ensure that it is not abnormally low, and examine the packaging and presentation of the product as depicted on the website to help determine whether the product might be fake or foreign-labeled goods.  Compare the look of the product offered with the same product on the manufacturer’s website – if it’s different, that’s a red flag.  Consumers should also not hesitate to contact the manufacturer if they suspect that they have received counterfeit or foreign-labeled goods – in addition to being the primary victims, consumers are often the first line of defense in the fight against counterfeiting.

As a manufacturer or trademark owner, what can you do when you discover your products being sold in an unauthorized channel, with risk of counterfeiting?  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has extensive experience helping manufacturers and distributors to investigate and, when necessary, litigate counterfeit and other trademark- and intellectual property-infringement claims.  CK&E attorneys are well-versed in the careful initial steps that should promptly be taken when sales of illicit products are suspected.  If the seller is cooperative, litigation can often be avoided.  But if the seller is not, that is a strong indicator that the seller has been selling, and will continue to sell, infringing products unless stopped through litigation.  Whatever you choose to do, consult experienced counsel and decide on your course of action promptly – unreasonable delays can seriously harm your ability to protect your rights.

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Sunscreen Ingredient Restrictions in Maui, Hawaii?

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Sunscreen manufacturers and distributors should take note:  Maui County in the state of Hawaii could become the first county in the United States to ban the sale and use of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two active ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in sunscreens.

In November, a Maui Hawaii County Council committee introduced and recommended for approval a bill for an ordinance that would prohibit the sale and use of sunscreen containing the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients are commonly used in commercial chemical sunscreens as protection against ultraviolet (UV) light radiation.  The county-level move came after Senate Bill 1150 – introduced in 2017 by Hawaii Senator Will Espero to ban the use and application of sunscreens containing oxybenzone throughout the state of Hawaii – stalled at the end of the legislative session.

The FDA currently approves of only 16 active ingredients for use in over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreens, generally recognizing them as safe and effective.  Among the ingredients are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are commonly found in commercial sunscreen products, including from major sunscreen brands such as L’Oreal, Neutrogena and Supergoop.  The European Union already imposes strict limits on the use of oxybenzone in sunscreen products as well as warning requirements.

The Maui County proposal was prompted by environmental concerns and intended to promote the health and welfare of Maui’s coral reefs and marine life. The bill’s supporters claim that oxybenzone and octinoxate have a significant impact on the marine environment, noting that both ingredients have been detected in the ocean surrounding Maui at levels that well exceed the toxicity range for coral reefs.  Opponents of the ban, on the other hand, contend that the ingredients are safe for use, as they have been approved for use by the FDA.

The proposal to ban sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate, other than prescription products, is now before the full Maui County Council. If approved, manufacturers, retailers and distributors of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate would have a year to ensure that their products no longer contain the banned ingredients. Businesses or persons found in violation of the law would be subject to civil penalties and administrative enforcement procedures. As of now, the bill does not contain a private right of action to allow consumers to bring actions for violations.  If passed, Maui’s outright ban could still face enforcement and legal challenges – including state preemption and federal Commerce Clause challenges.

While this is a unique development, local efforts to protect against health and environmental concerns are nothing new, but they do not always remain confined to their original purpose.  For example, California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65, was originally passed to protect the state’s drinking water sources from being contaminated with chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  However, Proposition 65 does not act to ban the use of any chemicals; instead, it imposes warning requirements prior to consumer exposure to certain chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  The 2012 listing of benzophenone to the state’s list of regulated chemicals has already caused many sunscreen manufacturers using octocrylene, another FDA-approved active ingredient that may contain small amounts of benzophenone, to reformulate or use a more purified form of the ingredient.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has many years of experience representing clients in the beauty and skin care industry address challenging regulatory compliance issues.  CK&E attorneys help clients stay out of legal crosshairs by working with them to ensure their products continue to meet all legal requirements, and helping them plan for foreseeable changes in the law.

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WARNING: Are Your Products and Websites Ready for the New Prop 65 Requirements?

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California’s Office of Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has issued new Proposition 65 Warning Regulations that will go into effect on August 30, 2018. It is important for companies to understand the changed regulations and be proactive in adapting their product labels and even internet marketing to adapt to the new regulations.  The coming changes have introduced a variety of new concepts, imposing additional burdens on businesses selling their products in California, and making it easier for plaintiff Prop 65 attorneys and groups to bring costly private enforcement actions.

The OEHHA has made significant changes to the safe-harbor language requirements that govern the language, text, and format of such warnings. The new regulations introduce the concept of a “warning symbol,” which must be used on consumer products, though not on food products. The “warning symbol” must be printed in a size no smaller than the height of the word “WARNING,” and should be in black and yellow, but can be in black and white if the sign, label, or shelf tag for the product is not printed using the color yellow.

Warnings must now also specifically state at least one listed chemical found in the product and include a link to OEHHA’s new website www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.  These are examples of the new format for more specific warnings:

  • For exposure to carcinogens: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • For exposure to reproductive toxins: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • For exposure to both carcinogens and reproductive toxins: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more listed chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer, and [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”

Certain special categories of products, such as food and alcoholic beverages, have a specialized URL that must be used. For example, warnings on food products must display the URL www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/food.

Recognizing that many consumer products have limited space “on-product” to fit the long-form warnings, the OEHHA has enacted new regulations allowing abbreviated “on-product” warnings. This short warning is permissible only if printed on the immediate container, box or wrapper of the consumer product. An example of the required format for the abbreviated warnings is:

  • WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm – www.P65Warnings.ca.gov

The new regulations also specifically address internet sales for the first time. Warnings must be provided with a clearly marked hyperlink on the product display page, or otherwise prominently displayed to the purchaser before completion of the transaction.  It will not be sufficient if the product sold on the internet bears the required label, but the internet point of purchase listing does not.

The particular requirements for each specific product can vary, so manufacturers and resellers are well-advised to seek qualified counsel to review their situation before committing to potentially costly label and website changes that may not comply with the new requirements.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stay up to date on important regulatory developments affecting their clients in the manufacturing and resale industries, and are ready to help clients navigate the changing regulatory landscape in California and elsewhere.

Although the new regulations take effect August 30, 2018, and the new warning labels are required for products manufactured after that date, companies can begin using the changed labels now. It is definitely not advisable to wait until August 2018 to begin making the required changes.

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Relationships Between Producers, Wholesalers, and Retailers: Beer Distribution and Franchise Laws in California (Part 2)

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In a recent blog post, we discussed beer self-distribution rules in California.  While the self-distribution laws in California are generally quite accommodating, and self-distribution works for a start-up craft brewery with limited funds, on a practical level it can only serve a relatively small geographical area.  As a brand increases in local popularity and the beer producer wants to expand its footprint and accelerate its competition with brands and beers outside its home region, usually the producer will choose to enter into a distribution agreement with an established third-party wholesaler.  When a beer producer chooses to contract with a distributor, then it is important to be aware of the applicable beer franchise laws (which also vary from state to state).  Beer franchise laws control the relationship between the brewer and the wholesaler and will generally trump contract terms that do not comport with such laws.

Beer franchise laws stem from a decades-old period when relatively few national-level breweries (like Budweiser and Miller) were able to exert significant power over the beer distribution industry, which at the time was chiefly comprised of numerous small mom-and-pop outlets.  As an example, the macrobreweries would impose stringent requirements for their distributors that necessitated significant investment (such as construction and maintenance of a sophisticated refrigerated warehouse), but there was nothing to protect the distributor when the macrobreweries decided to switch to a competitor, leaving the distributors with little recourse to recoup their investment.  To protect the distributors from this predicament, strong state franchise laws were enacted that made it difficult for the breweries to terminate contracts with distributors.

At their most draconian, beer franchise laws can marry a brewer to a distributor even if the brewer only sends a small initial amount of beer to the distributor for resale without any written agreement whatsoever.  In some cases distributors can even have the power to transfer the distribution rights to successors-in-interest without the brewer’s consent.  In many states, a brewer can only cancel a distribution contract for “good cause,” which may not include failure to reach sales quotas.  Further, many states require a brewer, in order to break a distribution contract, to pay the wholesaler Fair Market Value (“FMV”) for the lost business.  Of course, these rules have shifted a significant share of power to the distributors.

As the franchise laws weren’t enacted with the microbrewing phenomenon in mind, they can make distribution difficult for craft brewers that don’t have the clout of a national macrobrew and who don’t impose stringent requirements on their distributors.  In certain situations, a small brand may feel that a distributor is paying attention to other more established brands and that it is not getting the benefit of its bargain with the distributor.  However, many beer franchise laws have been softened over the past several years, allowing for more competition in the wholesale market and giving fledgling breweries more choice and control over the terms of their third-party distribution.  For example, some states exempt breweries that produce less than certain annual volumes from the franchise laws.  Of course, exemptions like this mean that brewers need to be conscious of their plans to grow and potentially exceed those volume limitations, and consider how it will affect their distribution agreements.

California’s beer franchise laws are some of the most accommodating in the country, because California allows the distribution agreement itself to control most of the important terms and dealings between the brewer and the wholesaler.  In California, a brewer must enter into exclusive written territorial agreements with distributors that are filed with the ABC (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25000.5).  California’s franchise laws do not restrict brewers to only “good cause” terminations (though the distributors themselves may very well fight for some type of good-cause requirement in contract negotiations).  Further, a brewer can terminate a distribution agreement if the wholesaler fails to meet a “commercially reasonable” sales goal or quota (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25000.7), and many beer distribution agreements call for the distributor itself to come up with an annual business plan that establishes sales goals based on certain data.  Except in certain situations, a brewer does not need to pay FMV to terminate the relationship (though again, a distributor may insist on a termination payment as a contract term).  While a brewer is not automatically bound by contract to a purchaser or transferee of its distributor, the brewer cannot unreasonably withhold consent or deny approval of such a transfer without incurring certain charges (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25000.9).

In California, the parties must be attuned to several important issues in creating the agreement, such as territory, term, change in ownership and transfer rights, termination rights, terms of sale, commercially reasonable sales goals, post-termination provisions, intellectual property licensing and advertising issues, dispute resolution, and other rights and duties of the parties.  Such contract terms are just as important for a brewer as finding a distribution team that is the right “fit” for a growing brand.

Overall, it is no surprise that the states with the most friendly self-distribution and franchise laws are the states with the most active and diverse beer business communities.  For example, California now has around 900 active breweries, far more than any other state, adding over 500 breweries in the last two years alone.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has experience representing both breweries and distributors.  If you are launching a brewery in California, looking to expand your brand’s sales through self-distribution or with a third-party distributor, or have found yourself in a distribution-related dispute, contact Conkle, Kremer & Engel for assistance with those and other beer industry-related issues.

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