The Conkle Firm Presentation at 2018 PCPC Legal & Regulatory Conference

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On May 9, 2018 Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John A. Conkle presented on “The State of the States” panel at the 2018 Personal Care Products Council’s Legal & Regulatory Conference.  The panel focused on the increasingly strong role of state legislatures and state regulatory bodies in addressing issues of importance to the personal care products and cosmetics industries.  The panel featured lively discussion of issues arising from the evolving patchwork of laws and regulations among numerous states, including California’s infamous Proposition 65, slack fill laws, and labeling and ingredient disclosure regulations, ingredient phase-out requirements and outright bans, volatile organic compound limitations to protect air quality, and animal testing regulations.  The discussion included the importance of preservation and presentation of evidence to support manufacturers’ positions, including testimony in depositions and at trial.

The panel’s presentation is available here for review.  Contact John Conkle to discuss the latest issues affecting the state of the personal care products and cosmetics industries.

 

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CKE Attorneys Attend Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville

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From April 30 to May 3, 2018, attorneys Evan Pitchford and Zach Page of Conkle, Kremer & Engel attended the Brewers Association’s Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Conference, with nearly 15,000 attendees, is the premier trade show, educational, and networking event for the craft brewing industry.  At the Conference, Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page participated in numerous business and legal affairs seminars and conferred with brewery operators and executives, suppliers, attorneys, accountants, and consultants from California and across the country.

While the main theme of the Conference was solidarity and cooperation between independent craft brewers and their networks, prominent legal and business issues discussed among attendees often focused on the increasingly crowded space of the craft beer market.  This increasing competition has resulted in intellectual property conflicts and disputes (for example, regarding trademarks for brewery names or branding for particular beers) that craft brewers need to plan around when starting their business and expanding their portfolios.  CK&E has attorneys like Mr. Page and Mr. Pitchford who are experienced in assisting clients in selecting, registering, and enforcing trademarks and trade dress in many consumer product industries.

Another hot business topic concerned distribution models for small breweries.  In several states (including California), self-distribution is available for small breweries (California allows for self-distribution regardless of volume), but as our previous blog noted, oftentimes a small brewery reaches a point where it cannot handle its own distribution and must seek out a distributor.  And, of course, in many other states, self-distribution is not permitted at all, necessitating the involvement of a distributor when a brewery wishes to sell draught beer or package their products.  Many small breweries are concerned not only with the myriad choices of distributors, but also with finding a distributor that is the right fit and will actively promote their portfolio, and with the often restrictive laws that are involved in manufacturer-distribution relationships.  Breweries should certainly be choosy about their distributors when possible, and in many jurisdictions there are an array of potential contractual provisions (for example, regarding sales goals, chain vs. independent accounts or other account stratification, marketing, plans for brand growth, audits, etc.) that can help shape a distributor relationship before it starts.  It pays to consider and discuss as many contractual parameters as possible before signing a distribution agreement.

Additional hot topics at the Craft Brewers Conference included new Tax and Trade Bureau funding for enforcement, government regulations of taprooms and brewpubs, off-premise sales, and licenses for short-term out-of-state sales (e.g. for festivals or competitions).  As the craft brewing industry continues to grow in footprint and sophistication, look for business and legal issues to be pushed even further to the forefront of the discussion.

Contact Conkle, Kremer & Engel for assistance with your brewery business or distribution needs.

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The Conkle Firm to Present at 2018 PCPC Legal & Regulatory Conference

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John A. Conkle will be on the panel opening the 2018 Personal Care Products Council’s Legal & Regulatory Conference.  The panel will present “The State of the States,” which will focus on the increasingly strong interest of state legislatures and state regulatory bodies in addressing issues of importance to the personal care products and cosmetics industries.

States have come to recognize that, with the U.S. Congress largely gridlocked and federal regulatory agencies in a deregulation mood, the path is open for the states to regulate consumer industries in manners that they deem fit.  The result is a continuously evolving patchwork of laws and regulations that can be difficult for industry participants to navigate.

Issues to be discussed at the May 9, 2018 panel presentation include California’s infamous Proposition 65, slack fill laws, and labeling and ingredient disclosure regulations that include even public databases disclosing products’ ingredients found by state governments to be detrimental.  Further, state regulations can include ingredient phase-out requirements and outright bans, volatile organic compound limitations to protect air quality, and even animal testing regulations that can affect industry participants’ ability to compete in international trade.

A lively discussion is inevitable given the rich and topical subject matter and the vital industry interests affected.  The rest of the Legal and Regulatory Conference program should be just as engaging, covering topics such as employment law, cannabis (THC, CBD, marijuana extracts and hemp) in cosmetics and personal care products.  The many other topics to be covered in the three-day conference in Savannah, Georgia can be found in the conference program.

 

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The Conkle Firm to Attend Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America

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Attorneys Evan Pitchford and Zachary Page of Conkle, Kremer & Engel will be attending the 2018 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America in Nashville, Tennessee from April 30 to May 3.  The Conference, presented by the Brewers Association trade group, is one of the largest craft brewing-centric trade shows in the world, with thousands of industry professionals and exhibitors in attendance annually.

Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page will attend to take meetings and keep abreast of the latest industry trends, including legal developments, craft brewing distribution and business issues, and evolving beer styles.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel brings its expertise to bear on a number of beer industry-specific issues, such as brand protection and intellectual property, distribution and vendor relations, regulatory issues, advertising and labeling, employment law, and litigation and alternative dispute resolution in state and federal courts.

If you’re an industry professional or craft beer-related business who will be at the Craft Brewers Conference and would like to connect with Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page before, during, or after the event, please contact them at e.pitchford@conklelaw.com and z.page@conklelaw.com.  They would be happy to arrange initial discussions about particular issues you may be facing.

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CK&E Attorneys Lobby California Legislature with PCPC

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On March 20, 2018 Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Eric S. Engel and Aleen Tomassian helped the Personal Care Products Council fulfill part of its mission by organizing and executing an effective lobbying day to advance the legislative interests of the industry.  Led by PCPC Senior Vice President Government Affairs Mike Thompson and PCPC Director of Government Affairs Karin Ross, a group of personal care product industry members, lobbyists and advisors heard presentations by pivotal regulatory agencies and then met with key legislators and their staffs to address issues of importance to the industry.

PCPC Chief Scientist Alex Kowcz seminar to Calif Legislative Staff

The PCPC held a luncheon at which it presented its first Legislator of the Year Awards to congresspersons who have been the most effective in advancing the important interests of both business and consumers in relation to personal care products.  Legislative staff also received an educational presentation from PCPC’s new Chief Scientist, Alex Kowcz, to help bring to Legislators the most current scientific information about issues affecting personal care products.  After a long day of meetings, participants unwound and connected at an informal reception for legislators, the governor’s office and administration officials at Ella, a popular restaurant near the State Capitol.

 

Eric S. Engel and Aleen Tomassian at PCPC Calif Lobby Day Reception

Some of the highlights of the 2018 PCPC California Lobby Day included a presentation by Meredith Williams, Deputy Director of Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), and Rick Brausch, Chief of DTSC’s Policy and Program Support Division, Hazardous Waste Management.  The mission of the DTSC is the Safer Consumer Products (SCP) program, directed toward advancing the design, development and use of products that are chemically safer for people and the environment.  The aim is to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products and create new business opportunities in green chemistry.

Dr. Williams advised the PCPC group that DTSC’s SCP program intends to focus over the next three years on nail salon products, particularly to assure a safe working environment for salon employees as well as customers, such as by assuring adequate ventilation and safety equipment.  Dr. Williams also noted that Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are not only within the ambit of California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) as to their effect on the environment, but they are also within the scope of DTSC’s authority when regulation of VOCs can meaningfully enhance protection of human health.

On February 8, 2018, DTSC released a draft 2018-2020 Priority Product Work Plan for public review, in which “Beauty, Personal Care and Hygiene Products” are identified as targets for possible regulation.  Of some concern to PCPC, the Priority Product Work Plan includes DTSC’s interest in broad classifications of chemicals without defining exactly which chemicals in what formulations are of concern.  For example, DTSC’s Priority Product Work Plan identifies oxybenzone, BPA, DEA, formaldehyde, phthalates, parabens, triclosan, titanium dioxide, tolulene and VOCs as classes chemicals being considered for possible regulation, but there are a great many specific chemicals, formulations and uses within such classes, and not all of them are likely to be of concern to DTSC.  PCPC expressed its concern that broad classifications can cause confusion among manufacturers and consumers, and unnecessarily inhibit product development and sales.  For example, oxybenzone (aka Benophenone-3) is one of just 16 chemicals approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe and effective for use as an ultraviolet (UV) filter to achieve broad-spectrum sun protection.  The health benefits of effective UV sunscreens are well documented, but the broad suggestion of “endocrine toxicity” or “dermatoxicity” in DTSC’s identification of oxybenzone is on shaky scientific footing.  Dr. Williams noted that the 2018-2020 Priority Product Work Plan is only in draft form, and that DTSC recognizes the broad nature of the chemical groups identified and is working on identifying specific chemicals of concern rather than entire classes of chemicals.

DTSC’s Richard Brausch spoke of the hazardous waste logistics issues facing the personal care product industry, affecting the entire supply chain from manufacturers to retailers.  The issue often occurs when products are returned from retailers, and questions arise as to whether they may be regarded as hazardous waste if they are no longer considered fit for regular sale, such as when new product labeling is introduced.  Issues can arise as to who has responsibility for proper transportation and disposal of the products, whether by sale in secondary markets, repair or refurbishment, donation to charities or recycling.  It is notable here that improper transportation and disposal has led some local authorities to sue retailers and wholesalers for failing to use hazardous waste transporters.  That in turn has caused retailers to impose anticipatory disposal charges on manufacturers and wholesalers for a wide range of products.  PCPC therefore supports Assembly Member Bill Quirk’s introduction of new legislation, AB 2660, which places the onus on the disposal company to determine the correct method of transportation, as that is not within the expertise expected of retailers.

The overriding hazardous waste concern is that California uses an “aquatic toxicity” (aka “fish kill”) test that is grossly out of alignment with federal law, and which results in most cosmetic products being characterized as hazardous under California law.  The “fish kill” test is exactly like it sounds – it tests only whether quantities of the subject product added to a water tank will kill fathead minnows.  The test is not regarded as especially accurate, notably because high viscosity products that are otherwise harmless can kill the fish by clogging their gills.  Further, the test presents a significant problem for the personal care products industry, which has taken a strong stand against animal testing, so manufacturers generally do not conduct this “fish kill” test on finished products.  PCPC therefore advocates a more modern approach to accomplish the same goal, by use of a more recently developed fish embryo test (FET), in which live fish are not killed.

An interesting side note is that SB 1249 was introduced by Senator Cathleen Galgiani to prohibit importation or retail sale of any cosmetic that was developed or manufactured using animal testing after January 1, 2020.  While PCPC takes a strong stand against animal testing, it could not support the bill as written because it included no exception for products marketed in countries (notably China) which require that products be subject to animal testing.  Rather, the PCPC has been working to obtain an amendment of the proposed legislation to make it conform to that of the European Union, which has strong anti-animal testing regulations but allows for accommodations to make products acceptable for sale in China.

Dr. Michael Benjamin, Air Resources Board Chief of Air Quality Planning and Science spoke about the substantial product data that ARB had collected from product manufacturers selling in California, through extensive annual surveys conducted over the past three years.  From that data, ARB is working to identify trends in emissions of VOCs.  Of particular interest is a February 15, 2018 publication in the academic journal Science of a study of VOC emissions from consumer products.  The Science publication (Volatile Chemical Products Emerging as Largest Petrochemical Source of Urban Organic Emissions, by Brian C. McDonald, Joost A. de Gouw, Jessica B. Gilman and others), Science Vol. 35, Issue 6377, pp. 760-764 (Feb. 16, 2018)) caught popular attention and some popular press because it found that vehicle emissions had become so much cleaner over the past decades that they were now responsible for less than half of VOC emissions.  Overall, the total volume of VOCs had diminished greatly.  Further, while the Science article authors made many assumptions on which they based their assessment of VOC contributions of consumer products, Mr. Benjamin pointed out that ARB has the actual data from its industry surveys to determine whether the author’s assumptions and conclusions are well founded.  ARB therefore intends to do its own assessment of the points made in the Science article to determine what further action is appropriate.

PCPC’s first Legislator of the Year Awards were presented to Senator Ed Hernandez, Assembly Member Bill Quirk and Senator Galgiani.  In his comments to PCPC members, Senator Hernandez emphasized, “We want business to stay here in California, we want businesses to be successful.  There’s a lot of people here that purchase your products.”   Assemblyman Quirk addressed the need for common sense limitations on legislation such as Proposition 65, remarking that “[Someone] sent me a package of Coors beer with a Prop 65 warning on it.  We now have cases in court where people want Prop 65 warnings on coffee. * * * One study after another shows it’s not a health risk. * * * We’ve got to do something about this.  I’m definitely going to be working as time goes on in the legislature so that we don’t end up with things that are harmless being labeled.”  Finally, Senator Galgiani observed that good legislative policy is not a zero sum game:  “It’s not about having a proposal that’s just good for the environment or just good for business but we can meet in the middle and have regulations and policies that work for both sides and help everybody involved.  It’s just harder to get there – it takes more work, it takes more time and it takes patience, and all of you [at PCPC] have done a great job.”

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2018 Changes to the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act

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Each year brings changes to the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, and 2018 is no exception.  Most of the changes for 2018 are quite esoteric, relating only to the provision of licenses in particular counties or venues, or allowing some additional rights to non-profit corporations who use temporary licenses for events.

However, a chief new feature of the ABC Act that will have state-wide impact is the Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training Program Act of 2017 (California Business and Professions Code § 25680 et seq.).  The RBS Act provides that the California ABC will develop a best-practices training program by 2020 that all on-premises servers of alcohol (and their managers) throughout the state will need to complete in order to be certified to serve alcohol.  Servers employed prior to July 1, 2021 must complete the program by August 31, 2021, and all servers hired after July 1, 2021 must complete the program within 60 days of being hired.  ABC advisories indicate that food servers, bartenders, cashiers, doormen, and bouncers all may be considered “servers” for purposes of the RBS Act.

The RBS law appears to encompass a wide manner of licensees that operate on premises – bars, restaurants, brewpubs, tasting rooms, clubs.  For non-profit special events/temporary licenses, the licensee is required to designate one certified server who must remain on site for the entire event.  Covered licensees are required to maintain records of their various certifications, and violators are subject to unspecified “disciplinary action.”

The 2018 ABC Act also permits for the first time beer manufacturers to provide free or discounted ground transportation rides for consumers (i.e. from the brewery taproom to local hotels, etc.) for purposes of public safety.  (California Business and Professions Code § 25600.)  This harmonizes the treatment of beer manufacturers with winegrowers and distillers.  The manufacturer cannot, however, make the transportation contingent on the purchase of an alcoholic beverage, and beer wholesalers cannot have any interest in the transportation arrangement.

In instances where small beer manufacturers (License Type 23) and winegrowers have adjacent production facilities, the 2018 revisions also permit a common-licensed area in which consumers can drink both wine and beer.  (California Business and Professions Code § 25607.)  This is a new exception to the general prohibition of anyone possessing alcoholic beverages on a manufacturer’s premises other than the types that manufacturer is licensed to produce.

Staying up to date on laws and regulations affecting the industry is vital to successfully protecting and growing alcoholic beverage businesses.  For assistance navigating beer-industry specific legal issues, contact Conkle, Kremer & Engel.

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California’s Cleaning Product Right to Know Act Requires Ingredient Disclosure

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California became the first state in the nation to have a cleaning products disclosure law, after Governor Brown signed the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (S.B. 258 (Lara)) into law in late 2017.

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act requires manufacturers of certain cleaning products sold in California to disclose on the product label and on the product’s Internet web site certain information related to known hazardous chemicals contained in the product.  Manufacturers will have until January 1, 2020 to comply with the online disclosure requirements, and until January 1, 2021 to comply with the product label disclosure requirements.  However, any intentionally added ingredient that is regulated by California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (commonly known as Proposition 65) will not have to be listed until January 1, 2023.

The new law applies to so-called “designated products”, which are defined as a finished product that is an air care product, automotive product, general cleaning product, or a polish or floor maintenance product used primarily for janitorial, domestic or institutional cleaning purposes.  It does not apply to foods, drugs and cosmetics, trial samples, or industrial products specifically manufactured for certain industrial manufacturing processes.

The product label will be required to disclose each intentionally added ingredient contained in the product that is included on any of 22 specified designated chemical lists – including chemicals listed pursuant to Proposition 65.  Alternatively, manufacturers may list all intentionally added ingredients contained in the product unless it is confidential business information.  The Act also requires the disclosure of fragrance allergens greater than 0.01 percent (100 ppm).  Additional requirements include the manufacturer’s toll-free telephone number and Internet web site address on the product label.

As for the online disclosure requirements, manufacturers must list all intentionally added ingredients and state their functional purpose.  All nonfunctional constituents present at above 0.01 percent (100 ppm) must also be listed.  The website must include electronic links for designated lists and a link to the hazard communication safety data sheet for the product.  In addition, specific requirements apply for the disclosure of fragrance allergens online.

The Act also adds a section to the California Labor Code imposing an obligation on employers who are required to provide employees with Safety Data Sheets (SDS).  Those employers must similarly make the printable information from the online disclosure available in the workplace.

Although it is a state law, the effect of the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act is certain to be felt by manufacturers across the country who sell their products into California, as is true of many of California’s other regulatory schemes, including Proposition 65, and will most likely result in a nationwide relabeling of covered products.

Given the Act’s numerous and in some cases highly technical requirements, manufacturers of cleaning products would be well advised to determine whether any of their products are subject to the Act, and take steps now to ensure compliance by 2020.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stand ready to help manufacturers handle all that is coming their way.

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The “Fourth Tier” of Beer: Internet Sales and Direct-to-Consumer Delivery

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In previous posts, we discussed the background of the three-tier system of alcohol sales in the United States – manufacturer (or importer), distributor, and retailer.  For the beer consumer, historically this has meant purchasing beer immediately, in person, at a restaurant, bar or liquor store.  Each state has its own licensing requirements and operational rules for such brick-and-mortar sites selling beer.  But with the ubiquity and borderless nature of the internet, what some call the “fourth tier” of craft beer sales is rapidly taking root.  Following models previously used in the wine industry, several beer delivery websites and cell phone apps are now available, with the proprietors often providing “services” to otherwise licensed beer sellers (i.e. not taking legal possession of or selling the products themselves, but instead acting as service-providers to the licensed sellers).  For regional brands without an expansive distribution footprint, and for the craft beer lovers who seek out those regional beers, this is a promising development.

States have begun to reshape their policies and laws to accommodate this relatively new direct-to-consumer beer delivery conduit.  As can be expected in this early developmental stage, there is a wide range of permitted activity among the different states.  The most permissive regulations in a small number of states allow suppliers, both in-state and out-of-state, to make unlimited shipments for consumers’ personal use.  Other states require suppliers to obtain a simple permit in order to ship beer direct to consumers.  Certain states only permit direct-to-consumer shipments from in-state breweries, along with outbound shipments to out-of-state consumers.  Some states allow outbound shipments to other states but no in-state shipments whatsoever.  Several states prohibit direct-to-consumer shipments of beer altogether.  Perhaps needless to say, potential international sales present an entirely different set of complications.

In California, beer (not wine, which is treated differently) can be sold directly to consumers via the internet with certain restrictions.  These restrictions are not directed at the internet as a sales medium per se – instead, the restrictions stem more from the historical requirements placed on importation and off-premises alcohol retailers.  (See, e.g., California Business and Professions Code §§ 23661 and 23671.)  With respect to retail sales, the seller must already be licensed to sell beer in California by “traditional” means.  First, the seller must have a licensed brick-and-mortar location in California.  Second, the seller must keep their inventory at that particular location (i.e. no shipments directly from the seller’s suppliers).  Third, the seller has to sell (or at least be able to sell) products at that location itself and not solely online – in other words, the seller must have a real in-person sales facility, not just a warehouse to service internet sales.  (See 4 California Code of Regulations § 27.)  With respect to sales directly from California-based beer manufacturers, the California ABC has determined that “as a matter of policy,” beer manufacturers are permitted to make online sales of beer to consumers.  (See Form ABC-409.)  It remains to be seen, however, if California will continue to allow beer delivery websites and apps to operate under the auspices of “services” or if additional requirements will be imposed on such providers.  (It’s also worth noting that the U.S. Postal Service will not transport alcohol – that must be done through a private carrier.)

It is easy to see that anyone wishing to distribute beer by online sales, especially across state lines, can quickly put themselves at risk of regulatory or legal issues.  If you are a brewery, retailer, or beer delivery service that wishes to engage in internet or other direct-to-consumer sales, it is advisable to contact qualified counsel for assistance before beginning or expanding such service.

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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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