N.C. takes a stand against ‘Hello Kitty’ wine

Plus: Chinese companies make record investments in Charlotte; Rival Atlanta wins distribution hub; New soccer deal announced

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ABC Commission increasingly bans alcoholic beverages with inappropriate names

With the state facing an explosion of new drinks, North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission is taking a hard line against names of beers and wines that it says are inappropriate. And it is increasingly barring drinks that it says have names that encourage underage drinking, reference illegal activity or are in bad taste.

Case in point: An agenda for today’s ABC Commission meeting in Raleigh says commissioners will consider appeals from two companies trying to win approval to sell their products in the state: a California distributor who wants to sell Hello Kitty wine and a Utah brewery that makes a beer called “Polygamy Porter.” ABC staff members rejected both names.

According to state data provided to the Ledger, state alcohol officials rejected 20 alcohol labels in the first four months of 2019. In all of 2018, they rejected just 13.

‘Kitty’ crackdown: In the case of Hello Kitty wine, the company’s website says it is available in 34 states, at outlets including World Market, Total Wine and Costco. Varieties include chardonnay, cabernet, sparkling rose, pinot noir and Japanese sake.

Protecting the children: Staff members at North Carolina’s ABC Commission don’t want N.C. consumers to get their paws on Hello Kitty wine.

Sarah Cogan, a California alcohol-licensing consultant who was hired by Hello Kitty wine’s distributor, says North Carolina rejected the application because it believes the brand appeals to children.

“We haven’t run into similar problems in other states,” Cogan told the Ledger with a chuckle. “I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and I’ve never had a product rejected just simply off the name. … I’m not particularly sure why that situation is happening in North Carolina.”

Enforcing the law: N.C. law says alcohol cannot have a label that “promotes or encourages the sale to, or use by, persons under 21 years of age of alcoholic beverages.” Labels also can’t encourage illegal behavior or depict the use of alcohol in a way that is “undignified, immodest, or in bad taste.”

That’s apparently what happened with Polygamy Porter, a beer from the Utah Brewers Cooperative. According to the case file, a state ABC official wrote to the company in May that “polygamy is illegal. Therefore these products will not be approved.”

States have a lot of latitude to determine the types of alcohol sold within their borders. Alcohol companies have to register names with the federal government, and just because the feds approve doesn’t mean a state must. Eyebrow-raising names of alcoholic beverages approved by the federal government include Maryland ales “Raging Bitch” and “Pearl Necklace,” a Spanish table wine called “Bitch” and a Georgia stout called “Happy Ending.”

According to ABC records, many of the recent rejections have to do with cannabis references. Although hemp products are legal, they are not approved for use in food and drinks.

Recently rejected labels from Charlotte breweries include:

  • “Cashmere Kush Double Milkshake India Pale Ale” from Sycamore Brewing.

  • “Chill Haze,” a “Pale Ale w/Cannabidiol” from Unknown Brewing Co.

  • “Cannasutra,” an “Aromatic India Pale Ale w/Cannabidiol” from Unknown Brewing Co.

  • “Daddy Needs His Juice,” a “Sour Golden Ale w/Cherries” from Wooden Robot.

National issue: North Carolina isn’t the only place struggling with potentially troublesome alcohol brands. Within the alcohol industry, some breweries walk a fine line. They try to create a name and label that grabs attention, but sometimes their efforts get accused of promoting misogyny and exploitation. Two years ago, a craft-brewery trade association said it would no longer allow award-winning breweries to advertise their awards if a panel deemed one of their beers to have an offensive label:

A few of the names that have caused a stir include Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp, showing a woman with a lower back tattoo from behind; Route 2 Brews Leg Spreader, featuring a woman with her legs spread; and Pig Minds Brewing’s PD Blueberry Ale, showing a woman with her panties around her ankles.


Record Chinese real-estate deals in Charlotte

Chinese investment in Charlotte surged to a record $138M in 2018, according to new data from commercial real estate research firm Real Capital Analytics.

The number is more than 5x the investment of 2017 and about 2x as much as the previous biggest year, 2015.

Still, Chinese investment in the Charlotte region is pretty small. It accounts for just 2% of all deals, the company said.

“That share is a big number relative to the history for Charlotte, but in total it is composed of small deals with less than $100 million deployed in any quarter,” Real Capital Analytics’ senior vice president Jim Costello explained to the Ledger.

He said the Charlotte number resulted from a small number of deals, including a Chinese consortium that bought nine Charlotte buildings out of more than 1,100 industrial structures owned by Global Logistic Properties (GLP); and then GLP’s purchase of two buildings from the Keith Corp. in June: one in Fort Mill and the other on Westinghouse Boulevard.


Arch-nemesis Atlanta beats out Charlotte for distribution center

The Charlotte area has apparently lost out in a competition with Atlanta to land a distribution center that would have created nearly 1,000 jobs.

The Biz Journal’s Ashley Fahey did some sleuthing and found:

The Charlotte area appears to have been a finalist for a distribution hub and nearly 1,000 jobs, but the project is expected to go to the Atlanta metro instead.

Project Southern Charm, purportedly a codename for online styling service Stitch Fix Inc., will employ 981 and intends to make an approximately $56 million investment in a distribution center in Douglas County, Georgia, according to an agenda item for a county meeting.

It’s unclear how seriously the Charlotte area labored for the distribution center, with a spokesman for the N.C. Commerce department saying his folks were apparently not involved and Charlotte telling Fahey that its economic development department had no info on the project.

Still, Atlanta boosters were quick to puff their chests online:

The “Atlanta beats Charlotte again” line didn’t sit well with the Observer’s Katie Peralta, who defended Charlotte’s honor by pointing out that Atlanta’s beloved SunTrust bank is packing its bags and heading four hours up I-85:

Ouch. Atlanta hasn’t been torched that badly since General Sherman.


In brief

  • More fútbol: The Carolina Panthers on Tuesday announced an agreement to bring international soccer exhibitions to Charlotte through 2024. They’re also trying to land a Major League Soccer team, which should be decided by the end of the month (Biz Journal, Observer).

  • New law firm: Chicago-based international law firm Seyfarth Shaw is opening a Charlotte office, the company said Tuesday. It will be the company’s 16th office and will serve local clients including Compass Group, TIAA and Wells Fargo.

  • New Corning HQ: Construction is finished on Corning’s new HQ building at Brookshire Boulevard and Mount Holly-Huntersville Road in northwest Charlotte. The site’s 650 office workers will move in over the next few weeks. The company makes communications equipment. (Observer)

  • Big Blue, Red Hat: IBM has closed on its $34B purchase of Raleigh software company Red Hat, the companies said Tuesday. It’s the second-biggest tech deal ever and could help IBM catch up to rivals in cloud services. Execs say “We’re not talking about layoffs,” according to WRAL TechWire.

  • Lightning round: CNBC’s Jim Cramer calls BofA stock “incredibly cheap.”

  • Offensive receipt: Customer Angie Lee says an employee at Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse on Rea Road entered her name as “Ching” on a receipt, according to WCNC. Similar incidents happened at two Smoothie Kings in Charlotte last month.


Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • Stuber (R) (50% on Rotten Tomatoes): Uber driver helps cop

  • Crawl (R): Father-daughter hurricane horror

  • Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable (PG): Fearless athlete overcomes odds

  • Super 30 (NR): Genius helps poor geniuses

Highly rated movies now playing:
  • Toy Story 4 (G) (98% on Rotten Tomatoes)

  • Avengers: Endgame (PG-13) (94%)

  • Spider Man: Far From Home (PG-13) (90%)

  • Rocketman (R) (89%)

  • Midsommar (R) (83%)

  • Annabelle Comes Home (R) (66%)

  • Yesterday (PG-13) (62%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • Charlotte to Philadelphia, $106 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), July 27-29.

  • Charlotte to San Juan, Puerto Rico, $195 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Aug. 24-27.

  • Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale, $80 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), Sept. 20-23.

  • Charlotte to Miami, $118 round-trip on American (nonstop), Sept. 21-23.

  • Charlotte to Denver, $126 round-trip on American (nonstop), Dec. 5-9.

  • Charlotte to Las Vegas, $186 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Dec. 14-17.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.


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The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.