Happy re-opening of the government. After being shut down for 35 days – the longest in U.S. history – the craft beverage industry will be playing catch up for a while. Today's post is focused on the TTB's role in craft, the impact of the TTB shutdown and how to streamline the process of securing meaningful (and available) product names that help tell your brand's story.
The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) has many responsibilities that directly impact craft, including approving various applications for permits, formulas and certificates of label approval (COLAs) that must be in place for craft beverage producers to legally run their operations. During the shutdown, businesses could fill out and submit the proper paperwork, but the forms weren't being processed: they were queued in the order received, only to be processed by the office starting this week. Of course, the government was still accepting electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes during the shutdown, but that's another email…
) has many responsibilities that directly impact craft, including approving various applications for permits, formulas and certificates of label approval (COLAs) that must be in place for craft beverage producers to legally run their operations. During the shutdown, businesses could fill out and submit the proper paperwork, but the forms weren't being processed: they were queued in the order received, only to be processed by the office starting this week. Of course, the government was still accepting electronic payments and returns for federal excise taxes during the shutdown, but that's another email…
The government can be very strict with what can and can't be written on a label, and every label requires TTB approval before use. The shutdown, as you might imagine, created a backlog of COLA and other applications/registrations. For larger craft beverage producers, this likely caused little if any issue, because labels for core or established products rarely change. But for smaller producers that rely on a steady innovation pipeline to stay top-of-mind with local customers, a month lag may seem like an eternity. What's true for label approval is also relevant to formula approval: imagine a seasonal or timely beverage waiting to be okayed as shelf life and stability clocks tick away. Or business permits for your new production facility…your lenders or contractors didn't give you a "pass" during the shutdown, so the timing of your opening may be at risk. However you look at it, the 35-day shutdown, plus the looming threat of a repeat, levied a giant blow to the industry.
Thanks for the motivational speech, coach! If that's where we ended this week's email you would have no disagreement here – not very encouraging for craft. But the team at Market Your Craft saw this as an opportunity to pool all the resources we use to help clients with beverage naming prior to TTB COLA application. We believe that a thoughtful beverage naming strategy goes miles towards helping businesses like yours engage with customers in a meaningful, profitable way.
When introducing a new craft beverage, naming plays a vital role in how that beverage is received, interpreted and eventually embraced by the customer. However, it's rare nowadays to find a producer that tries to label according to a "family" naming convention, or a central theme that supports a greater brand story. The old adage, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," comes into play here, because it's proven that an integrated approach to marketing your craft will yield greater results than disparate efforts and disjointed messages. Not trying to be preachy, but we feel that having a content marketing strategy in place will help brands like yours scale and thrive. When every touchpoint with the customer is consistent, deliberate and controlled, very little room is left for confusion. And while we all know that customers build brands (not businesses, as consumer packaged goods industries once banked on), it's our job to give them the hints and cues needed to help them form their opinion on what your brand stands for and why they should care.
So here is the list we came up with. It's not exhaustive by any means, but it should help your team avoid many pitfalls and setbacks caused by a crowded beverage market, further complicated by government shutdown events. Ask yourself, does your proposed beverage name:
The TTB has online resources to help determine whether a name is available for a particular class of use. We like to also search industry forums and databases for any existing use, including:
- Craft Beer: Rate Beer, Untappd
- Craft Wine: Wine Spectator, Wine-Searcher.com
- Craft Spirits: Whisky.com, Straightbourbon.com, Whisky Magazine
- Non-alcoholic: try a major retailer first, like Whole Foods/Amazon.com
As always, it's best to seek legal or outside counsel when working with government agencies. Hopefully this helps shortcut the process towards a successful submission!