Facebook announced a new policy to restrict sales and limit content related to alcohol and tobacco products on both Instagram and Facebook.
When I found out this news (of course) my mind immediately shifted to those of us who sell boozie cakes and other alcohol infused treats on social media. So, what will this mean for the baking and sweets community?
According to CNN, a spokeswoman from Facebook explained that “the new policy will prohibit all private sales, trades, transfers and gifting of alcohol and tobacco products on Facebook and Instagram…Any brands that post content related to the sale or transfer of these products will have to restrict that content to adults 18 or older.”
Apparently, the existing policies already prohibited the sale of tobacco and alcohol on the Facebook Marketplace, but now the social media giant is expanding this restriction to include regular posts from individual social media users.
So far as I can tell, the good news is that thanks to free speech…these new rules don’t apply to posts that are generally about alcohol or tobacco products. However, the iffy part is that the rule does apply when the user is trying to directly sell alcohol or tobacco products. This rule will also impact “Facebook groups created to sell alcohol or tobacco products,” and those groups may be subject to removal from Facebook if they don’t make the required changes.
Now…with all of that said…what does this mean for those of us in the baking and sweets community who sell boozie cakes, cupcakes and other alcoholic infused products?
Well…as my good friend and lawyer turned baker, Dawn Belisle of Delights by Dawn says, “In order to know how we can work within in the law, we have to understand the law.”
Facebook may not be the law, but their policies are basically the laws that govern how we can operate on their platform. In addition, because we are talking about alcohol here there actually are a few legal matters that we need to consider before we even think about selling alcoholic infused items in our baking businesses in general.
The Actual Facebook Policy
According to Facebook & Instagram’s Commerce Policies, sells listings on both platforms “may not promote the buying or selling of alcohol” including the “sale of alcoholic beverages” and “kits for making alcohol.” However, the policy notes that the promotion of “alcohol-related items, including glasses, coolers and wine bottle holders” are ok.
After considering this wording, it sounds like we can continue business as usual when posting our alcoholic infused cakes and sweet treats that use alcohol as an ingredient, because these will probably be considered alcohol-related items. The only word of caution I would add here is related to the way you go about visually promoting those menu items.
According to Facebook, they will “use a combination of technology, human review and reports from our community to find and remove any content that violates these policies.” For anyone who has ever been put in “Facebook jail” for a post that seemed harmless, you know what a pain in the neck this might become. In fact, I would refer you back to that one time that Facebook banned a King Cake ad for excessive nudity of plastic babies.
Since we all know that Facebook is not perfect and that other Facebook users can be haters some times, my recommendation is that if you’re promoting alcohol-infused cakes or sweet treats that you (1) try your best not to include the bottle in your pictures or (2) plainly express that the bottle in the image is only for promotional purposes and that your product contains alcohol as an ingredient.
Now, when it comes to those of us who choose to walk on the wild side and sell or promote menu items that actually have alcohol filled pipettes or real bottle of alcohol sticking out of them…(which is a trendy thing to do online #judgementFreeZone)…this new policy may hit your posts a bit harder.
So what is the difference between selling treats with alcohol as an ingredient and selling treats that have alcohol in pipettes or bottles sticking out?
Without going into too much detail from the Legal Dish on Baking with Booze class hosted at this year’s Ultimate Sugar Show, I will point out that the government looks at the sell of alcohol filled pipettes and bottles stuck into cakes and sweet treats as selling actual alcohol…and they take the sh*t seriously!
In fact, government agencies such as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the US Department of Treasury, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and various individual state agencies all exist for the purpose of regulating the manufacturing, distribution, labeling, permitting, and taxation of alcoholic beverages. So, when you go to stick a bottle of alcohol into a cake or candy apple without the proper permits or licensing, just realize that you’re actually committing a federal offense. #Yikes
Now…with all of that said…the Facebook new policy might have a slight impact on the way we promote our alcohol-infused menu items on social media. However, I would also like for us to look at the bigger picture when it comes to operating our sweet businesses, and there is no doubt that alcohol is a hot topic.
What does this all mean, and what should I do next?
By now, you may be saying…”Ok Cyd, so if I can’t use pipettes or bottles with my treats, how am I supposed to sell my highly requested alcohol infused treats for my customers??”
To that I say change it up!
Now that you’ve been educated on what’s legal (i.e. alcohol as an ingredient) and not legal (i.e. alcohol in pipettes), I would say you have two options.
One, remove those items from your menu offering and just keep your distance from those types of orders, or
Two, show your customer how to add in those elements after you’ve delivered your product. This option can be tricky because folks like to tag bakers and sweet treat makers in their posts on social media. AND…the last thing you need is for the government to come knocking on your door for illegally selling alcoholic treats. So, I would also add to this point that if you fulfill the order without the alcohol and show your customer how to add in the bottles or pipettes themselves, then you make sure they don’t tag you on social media period. However, we know social media and even this strategy may not be 100% safe.
Oh…and don’t even bother me with option #3, which I know some of ya’ll are thinking right now. “What about if they buy the alcohol, and I just place it in the cake for them?” Nope…still no good. This is too gray of an area for you to play with the government about.
In fact, I think option number two is too gray…but I put it out there because I know that no matter what I say some folks will still keep selling treats and cakes with pipettes or bottles. LOL!
Honestly, if you want to know more about this topic and you really want to chat with someone about it, I recommend connecting with my girl Dawn! As I mentioned earlier, she is a lawyer turned baker, and she actually specializes in helping bakers, cakers and sweet treat makers with matters like this. Trust me…you don’t want to start Googling and trying to find out stuff on your own on the internet because there is a lot of BAD and MISINFORMED information out there. I’ve even heard folks say that the governing agency that regulated alcohol was the FDA (e.g. Food and Drug Administration). Um…no that’s incorrect! Check in with a lawyer like Dawn who knows a thing or two, because she’s an actual lawyer, who legally sells boozie cupcakes and researched the heck out of this entire topic.
Now I ask you…what is your next move?
I definitely don’t think folks should stop selling alcoholic infused cupcakes and treats, but I do think changing up the marketing images may be the smart adjustment. What are you plans now that you’ve learned about the new policies? Will you remove some items from your menu, or will you keep going about business as usual in anticipation that not much will change? I want to know! Hit me in the comments below, and let’s chat about it.
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About the AuthorCydni N. Mitchell (aka Cyd) is the bakery and Sweet Business Coach behind Sweet Fest®. Based in Atlanta, GA, Sweet Fest® is an online company that supports the business needs of the Sweet Community in the areas of professional development, marketing and branding. By trade, Cyd is an accountant & financial analyst with a Masters from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the organizer of The Ultimate Sugar Show, a baking and sweets trade show in Atlanta, GA, and she is the Co-Founder of the Sugar Coin Academy, an online business academy for business owners in the baking and sweets industry. Learn more.