The alcoholic beverage industry is highly regulated. Industry members are expected to know and comply with federal, state, and local laws that apply to the production, distribution, and retail sale of alcoholic beverages. In addition, regulatory agencies–principally the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the State of Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT)–have created additional rules that govern the alcoholic beverage industry.
The following table is a very brief overview of the legal responsibilities of every alcoholic beverage wholesalers (including distributors and brokers) operating in Florida. Describing and understanding these legal responsibilities is the goal of this website. The Categories column provides links to blog posts that provide additional information on each topic.
|Licenses & Permits
|Wholesalers cannot operate without federal and state licenses and permits. This requires submitting licensing applications to the TTB and the ABT. Generally, license applications focus on two topics: (1) the place where alcoholic beverages products will be kept, and (2) the people who will have responsibility for the handling of alcoholic beverage products. For licensing through the ABT, preliminary approval by other agencies–the local zoning authority and Florida Department of Revenue–is required. The ABT license application requires payment of an initial licensing fee, and maintaining the state licenses requires paying annual license fees. For both federal and state licenses, updates to the license information is required whenever there is a change to the premises, responsible people, or operations.
|Recordkeeping & Reporting
|Wholesalers are required to keep detailed records of their alcoholic beverage products. Inventories, production reports, invoices, and bills of lading must tell the story of how all alcoholic beverage products are acquired, sold, and delivered.
|Alcoholic beverage products are subject to federal and state excise taxes. These are taxes that apply on the creation or importation of the products themselves, regardless of how or when they are sold. Florida distributors are required to pay state excise taxes on the alcoholic beverage products they acquire for distribution in Florida.
|Audits & Inspections
|Wholesalers are required to operate in a transparent manner, so that the TTB, ABT, and other government agencies can verify compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Primarily, this involves periodic audits of wholesalers’ recordkeeping and reports, to confirm that excise taxes have been calculated and paid properly. Government agencies may also conduct inspections to ensure that alcoholic beverage products are being kept secure and sold in accordance with applicable laws.
|Brands & Labels
|While federal and state laws concerning alcoholic beverage brands and labels is most often the concern of suppliers, wholesalers may play a role as well. Alcoholic beverage brands must be registered with the ABT and must obtain label approval from the TTB (subject to exceptions). Florida brand registration is a part of the state’s process for ensuring the excise taxes are paid on all alcoholic beverage products that are sold in the state. Brand registration is also significant with respect to compliance with Florida’s Beer Franchise Law, which requires brands to be distributed through exclusive distributors. Federal label approval is required to ensure that labels comply with federal laws and regulations about what information and images can be included on labels. As a significant exception, federal label approval is not required for beer that is not distributed outside the state in which it is made.
|Wholesalers are required to ensure that their products are kept and handled safely, in compliance with federal laws and regulations.
|Advertising concerning alcoholic beverage products must comply with federal laws and regulations. Advertising rules are principally aimed at ensuring that advertising is truthful and accurate and not designed to appeal to underaged consumers or consumers who might abuse consumption of alcoholic beverage products.
|Three Tier System
|Florida wholesalers are required to operate within the Three Tier System. Principally embodied in the Florida Beverage Law, the Three Tier System is intended to keep separate the operations of alcoholic beverage suppliers, wholesalers, and retail vendors. A number of exceptions to the Three Tier System apply. Complying with the Three Tier System is especially important in connection with obtaining and maintaining Florida alcoholic beverage licenses.
|Three Tier System
|Agreements between Florida suppliers and wholesalers are important to the industry. Especially because of the Three Tier System, suppliers are prohibited from selling alcoholic beverage products directly to retail vendors and are limited in their ability to sell to consumers. This means that suppliers and retail vendors rely on wholesalers to get alcoholic beverage products to market. The Florida Beer Franchise Law especially plays a significant role in how beer suppliers and distributors work together.
|As a rule, wholesalers are prohibited from making sales directly to retail consumers. Florida Beverage Law requires that distributors sell alcohol beverage products only to licensed retailers.
Do you have any questions about alcoholic beverage suppliers’ responsibilities? Contact us to schedule a consultation with a beverage attorney.
Because we’re attorneys: Disclaimer. Posted January 4, 2024.