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Kombucha Tossed from Whole Foods on TTB Guidance

Whole Foods and New Leaf markets have pulled Kombucha Tea from the shelves after the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (TTB) issued guidance on Kombucha’s alcohol content levels. The TTD began investigating Kombucha Tea after receiving inquires from the states of Maine, Minnesota, Arizona, and Vermont. Kombucha is a fermented tea and is usually marketed as a non-alcoholic beverage. Non-alcoholic beverages may contain trace amounts of alcohol up to 0.5 percent by volume. The TTB notes that some Kombucha products have alcohol contents that substantially exceed 0.5 percent. The TTB has not determined the full scope of which brands exceed the legal limit for non-alcoholic beverages in its ongoing investigation.

All Kombucha products exceeding 0.5 percent must comply with the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act). This act covers regulations for permitting, labeling, and advertising. All Kombucha teas exceeding 0.5 percent alcohol by volume must also comply with the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act which requires labeling the product as an alcoholic beverage and also requires a health warning on the label. In addition, the alcoholic beverage designation makes products subject to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. This includes other labelling requirements and excise taxes. Under this code, beverages exceeding 0.5 percent alcohol by volume can be seized and forfeited unless compliant with the applicable taxes, permitting, and labeling requirements.

The TTB is advising producers and distributors of kombucha products to ensure that labeling laws for alcoholic beverages are followed. The TTB cites concerns for pregnant women, children, and individuals who must avoid alcohol for medical reasons. The TTB is in the process of testing samples of kombucha products in an effort to determine which brands are affected. Whole Foods is also working to determine which products are in compliance with federal regulations. Whole Foods operates over 290 stores in the US, Canada, and the UK.