50ml from Global Domination?

TTBOften, spirits brands here in the U.S. find themselves wanting to explore foreign distribution only to end up frustrated.  They’re frustrated, in part, because the benefits of foreign distribution can be fairly substantial – so the promise looks bright – but the logistics and realities of selling overseas can be daunting.

It is just possible that one of the challenges to selling overseas (albeit a reasonably small one) is about to go away.

Since 1980, most hooch sold in the United States has been sold in 750ml bottles.  Those of you familiar with the craft scene will note that 375ml bottles are also seen with frequency (and those of you who shop at big box stores will also be familiar with 1 liter and 1.75 liter bottles as well).  But, by and large, the 750ml bottle has reigned supreme on the stores of liquor stores throughout the nation.

Over in Europe?  Not so much.  Spirits may not be sold in either the 750ml bottle or its 375ml cousin over on the continent.  In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between permitted US sizes (so-called Standards of Fill) and EU sizes.

Milliliters of Hooch Permitted in US? Permitted in EU
50 Yes No
100 Yes Yes
200 Yes Yes
350 No Yes
375 Yes No
500 Not anymore* Yes
700 No Yes
750 Yes No
1000 Yes Yes
1500 No Yes
1750 Yes Yes
2000 No Yes

*  Was acceptable for bottlings until June 30, 1989 – then no more.

To save the reader time, I’ve put in bold and underlined the sizes which are currently permissible in both the United States and the EU.  Yep – there are only four.  And none of them are among the best selling sizes here in the States.  So a spirits brand wanting to expand sales from the US into Europe (or vice-versa) could reasonably be expected to ask the question of whether they need to have two different sets of bottles – possibly even two different bottling lines – in order to make this work.

But it may be that all this is about to change.

As reported by Marc Sorini in the Alcohol Law Advisor (by way of Artisan Spirit), the TTB seems to be in a mood to remove regulatory burdens.  And one of the burdens they’re proposing to remove is the requirement that spirits be sold in designated sizes.  Instead, the agency is prepared to move forward with a rule that would establish the minimum and maximum quantities (which are set by logic and statute, respectively) – and give producers broad leeway to bottle in any quantity between those guardrails.

Assuming that this rule change is made, producers here in the States who want to expand to Europe may want to consider swapping out their 750ml bottles for a stock of Euro-compliant 700ml bottles.  Prior to doing this, of course, you’ll want to work with your distributors, customers and on-premise partners to make sure that you don’t offend them by the change (it’s only a reduction of roughly 1.6 oz, but people can be finicky).  And you’ll want to recognize that in much of the rest of the world the 750ml bottle remains the standard.  But again, if you’re targeting the EU market – this could be a meaningful benefit.

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