The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has experienced some difficult times in the last several years due to reduced staffing and declining budgets. These factors have made it difficult for the agency to accomplish two of its major functions; Permitting and Approving Labels.

TTB has attempted to address the Label Approval issue by instituting two recent changes. First in April 2011, the agency announced that would discontinue evaluating labels for purposes of ensuring that the labels conform to all applicable legibility and type size requirements (including characters per inch and contrasting background). As always, the responsible industry member is obligated to ensure proper labeling for their products and this new procedure ensures new label approvals will contain a statement to that effect.

Then on July 5, 2012, TTB published a revised version of TTB Form 5100.31, Application for and Certification/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval, also known as a certificate of label approval or COLA. The most significant change made was to expand the list of items that may be changed on an alcohol beverage label without TTB approval. Highlights of the new revisions include the following. Holders of approved labels may:

Move mandatory and non-mandatory information, including text, illustrations, graphics, etc.

  • Change:
    • the color(s) (background and text).
    • the type size and font and, where appropriate, the spelling (including punctuation and abbreviations).
    • the mandatory statement of alcohol content, where such change is not inconsistent with the labeled class and type designation, or with any other labeling statements.
    • the name or trade name to reflect a different name already approved by TTB for use by that industry member.
    • optional “produced by” or “made by” statements on wine labels to “blended by,” “vinted by,” “cellared by” or “prepared by” statements.
    • the address of the industry member if it is in the same state as the previous address.
  • Delete or change optional age statements for all alcohol beverage labels and barrel aging statements for wine and malt beverage labels.
  • Add, delete, or change:
    • a vintage date on wine labels, including wines with organic claims.
    • an optional alcohol content statement on malt beverage labels.
    • stated bottling date, production date or freshness information including bottling, production, or expiration dates or codes.
    • UPC barcodes and 2D mobile barcodes (for example, QR codes or Microsoft Tags).
    • Trademark and copyright symbols (for example, TM, ©, or ®), kosher symbols, company logos, and social media icons.
    • optional information about awards or medals.
    • holiday and seasonal graphics, artwork, and salutations.

It’s stated purpose for making these changes was to assist alcohol beverage industry members to move their products into the marketplace more quickly and reduce the administrative burden and cost of multiple application resubmissions while at the same time promote the most efficient use of TTB’s limited resources, without reducing consumer protection, while decreasing the number of applications returned for correction, resubmission, and re-review. TTB’s actions should be applauded.