Thursday, July 23, 2015
Diageo Goofs, Catches and Fixes It
The good news in this story is that everyone is taking label compliance more seriously these days. Case in point. Yesterday, a correspondent at a liquor store in New York state opened a case of Seagrams 7 and noticed a label change.
He also noticed a serious omission.
Section 5.39(a) of the TTB rules for American Blended Whiskey reads, in relevant part, -- “if neutral spirits have been used in the production thereof, there shall be stated the percentage of neutral spirits so used and the name of the commodity from which such neutral spirits have been distilled. The statement of percentage and the name of the commodity shall be made in substantially the following form: ‘--------% neutral spirits distilled from -------------- (insert grain, cane products, or fruit as appropriate).’”
American Blended Whiskey doesn't have to contain grain neutral spirits (GNS, also known as vodka), but most of it does. Diageo's Seagrams 7 is the best-selling American blend. Since the label says 'whiskey,' TTB figures you should know how much of it actually is whiskey and how much is vodka (the proof tells you how much is water), hence the required 5.39(a) statement.
Here is an example from an older bottle of Seagrams 7 in my possession. More recent bottles declare 75%. The legal maximum is 80%. 'Grain Spirits,' by the way, is the official name for GNS that has had some wood contact, typically 90 days in used barrels. They no longer go to that extra expense so newer labels say 'grain neutral spirits.'
After searching the new label in vain for the Section 5.39(a) statement, I sent an email to Diageo. In less than 24 hours I received the following from Zsoka McDonald, Vice President, Corporate Communications for Diageo North America.
"This was a mistake which we became aware of a few weeks ago. As soon as the problem was discovered, we immediately notified the TTB, worked with the TTB to disclose all relevant information, and submitted a COLA for a corrected label. We have since received approval from the TTB on that new label. We are now in the process of producing these new labels, and expect product carrying the new labels to be produced in the coming weeks. Please know that we take label compliance extremely seriously, and we have extensively reviewed all aspects of the process with our compliance team."
The new label. Note that, uncharacteristically, the 5.39(a) disclosure is on the front.
As I replied to Ms. McDonald, her answer is exactly what I was hoping for. Everybody makes mistakes and deserves the chance to correct them. That is the difference between responsible industry participants and schemers who omit required label statements hoping to deceive consumers about, for example, where the product is made. That's why this is a story. This is how the grownups roll.