Home Packaging Will TTB Eliminate All Standards of Fill?

Will TTB Eliminate All Standards of Fill?

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The TTB is asking for comment about eliminating all standards of fill for wine and spirits.

By Jeff Siegel

The wine industry, already beset by supply chain woes, inflation and declining sales, may have another contentious issue to deal with: elimination of standards of fill, the legal term for what sizes of bottles, cans and containers wine producers can use.

Eliminating all standards of fill, save for a minimum and maximum, is just one element of a TTB proposal that was announced at the end of May. It’s part of a larger, more comprehensive standards of fill review that includes spirits and takes into account a 2109 trade agreement with Japan that would allow some imports to come in nonstandard packaging. 

The TTB is asking for comment about eliminating all standards of fill for wine and spirits, except for a 50mL minimum for both and a 3.785-liter maximum for spirits. The other option: Add 10 additional sizes to the current 12 for wine while leaving the 11 current sizes for spirits unchanged.

Proposed TTB changes to standards of fill don't sit well with some wine and wholesalers trade groups. [iStock]
Proposed TTB changes to standards of fill don’t sit well with some wine and wholesalers trade groups. [iStock]

These changes don’t sit well with the wine and wholesalers trade groups, which noted the TTB added new container sizes just a couple of years ago. Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) issued a statement that included:  “a rulemaking so close in time seems unwarranted. The marketplace hasn’t had time to absorb the new sizes, so the effects [of that change] are unknown. To make further changes without seeing the impact of the prior rule change seems premature.”

Hearing from all sides

The industry is decidedly split. On the one hand is WineAmerica, one of the industry’s biggest producer trade groups, as well as the WSWA, each adamantly opposed to changing the current fill requirements. In the middle are retailer groups, which have not yet taken a position — perhaps stuck between the chance for innovation and the conundrum of somehow fitting new sizes on existing store shelves. And finally, there’s a host of smaller wineries and some importers that see proposed changes as a way to encourage innovation and to spark interest among consumers.

“We’ve been hearing from producers who wanted new container sizes,” says TTB spokesman Tom Hogue, who adds that the possible changes are in line with the Biden Administration’s 2021 proposal to remove some alcohol regulation to further innovation. Ongoing supply chain woes for glass and cans are another reason to allow more container sizes, says Hogue, since one size might be available when another is not.

“As you may imagine, different companies have different views,” says Robert Tobiassen, president of the National Association of Beverage Importers trade group, whose organization has not yet decided what to do about the TTB proposal. “My sense, based on the small group of importers I’ve talked to, is that large importers want TTB to maintain the status quo and small importers want to see standards of fill eliminated to help them enter the U.S. marketplace with some unique and differently packaged brands and products.”

Will changing standards of fill have unintended consequences? [iStock]
Will changing standards of fill have unintended consequences? [iStock]

Unintended consequences

There are also concerns that, if TBB eliminates fill regulations, some states might establish their own, says Michael Kaiser, executive vice president and director of government affairs for WineAmerica, an industry advocacy group. In that case, it’s possible that not every state would follow the federal guidelines and instead could establish its own standards of fill. If that happens, some states might be more restrictive than others — meaning a legal size in one state might not be legal in another state. In other words, potentially 50 different different standards for 50 different states. “It’s the law of unintended consequences,” says Kaiser, “and we have to be careful what we wish for.”

Still, the proposal remains attractive to many small producers and importers. Andrew Stover, portfolio manager for importer Siema Wines and Vino50 Selections in Washington, D.C., sees exciting marketing possibilities if TTB restrictions are eliminated. How about high-end wine sold in a perfume bottle knockoff? Aaron Inman, whose Sonoma, Calif.-based Lucky Rock Wine Co. packages in bottles, cans and kegs, sees the potential to experiment with different sizes to find out what sells best — something not allowed under the current fill standards.

Comments to TTB close at the end of July; no date has been set for a decision.

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Jeff Siegel

Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”

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