9 CFR 203.14 - Statement with respect to advertising allowances and other merchandising payments and services.
1. Who is a customer? (a) A customer is a person who buys for resale directly from the packer, or through the packer's agent or broker; and in addition, a customer is any buyer of the packer's product for resale who purchases from or through a wholesaler or other intermediate reseller.
In determining whether a packer has fulfilled its obligations toward its customers, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (Packers and Stockyards Programs) will recognize that there may be some exceptions to this general definition of “customer.” For example, the purchaser of distress merchandise would not be considered a “customer” simply on the basis of such purchase. Similarly, a retailer who purchases solely from other retailers or one who makes only sporadic purchases, or one who does not regularly sell the packer's product or who is a type of retail outlet not usually selling such products will not be considered a “customer” of the packer unless the packer has been put on notice that such retailer is selling its product.)
(b) Competing customers are all businesses that compete in the resale of the packer's products of like grade and quality at the same functional level of distribution, regardless of whether they purchase direct from the packer or through some intermediary.
2. Definition of services. Services are any kind of advertising or promotion of a packer's product, including but not limited to, cooperative advertising, handbills, window and floor displays, demonstrators and demonstrations, customer coupons, and point of purchase activity.
3. Need for a plan. If a packer makes payments or furnishes services, it should do so under a plan that meets several requirements. If there are many competing customers to be considered, or if the plan is at all complex, the packer would be well advised to put its plan in writing. The requirements are:
(a) Proportionally equal terms - The payments or services under the plan should be made available to all competing customers on proportionally equal terms. This means that payments or services should be made proportionately on some basis that is fair to all customers who compete in the resale of the packer's products. No single way to achieve the proper proportion is prescribed, and any method that treats competing customers on proportionally equal terms may be used. Generally, this can best be done by basing the payments made or the services furnished on the dollar volume or on the quantity of goods purchased during a specified period. Other methods which are fair to all competing customers are also acceptable.
(b) Packer's duty to inform - The packer should take reasonable action, in good faith, to inform all its competing customers of the availability of its promotional program. Such notification should include all the relevant details of the offer in time to enable customers to make an informed judgment whether to participate. Where such one-step notification is impracticable, the packer may, in lieu thereof, maintain a continuing program of first notifying all competing customers of the types of promotions offered by the packer and a specific source for the customer to contact in order to receive full and timely notice of all relevant details of the packer's promotions. Such notice should also inform all competing customers that the packer offers advertising allowances and/or other promotional assistance that are usable in a practical business sense by all retailers regardless of size. When a customer indicates its desire to be put on the notification list, the packer should keep that customer advised of all promotions available in its area as long as the customer so desires. The packer may make the required notification by any means it chooses; but in order to show later that it gave notice to a certain customer, it is in a better position to do so if it was given in writing or a record was prepared at the time of notification showing date, person notified, and contents of notification.
If more direct methods of notification are impracticable, a packer may employ one or more of the following methods, the sufficiency of which will depend upon the complexity of its own distribution system. Different packers may find that different notification methods are most effective for them:
(1) The packer may enter into contracts with its wholesaler, distributors or other third parties which conform to the requirements of item 5, infra.
(2) The packer may place appropriate announcements on product containers or inside thereof with conspicuous notice of such enclosure on the outside.
(3) The packer may publish notice of the availability and essential features of a promotional plan in a publication of general distribution in the trade.
(A packer should not rely on a written agreement authorizing an intermediary to receive notice of and/or payment under a promotional plan for a retailer if the packer knows, or should know, that the retailer was coerced into signing the agreement. In addition, a packer should assume that an intermediary is not authorized to receive notice of and/or payment under a promotional plan for a retailer unless there is a written authorization signed by such retailer.)
(c) Availability to all competing customers - The plan should be such that all types of competing customers may participate. It should not be tailored to favor or discriminate against a particular customer or class of customers but should, in its terms, be usable in a practical business sense by all competing customers. This may require offering all such customers more than one way to participate in the plan or offering alternative terms and conditions to customers for whom the basic plan is not usable and suitable. The packer should not, either expressly or by the way the plan operates, eliminate some competing customers, although it may offer alternative plans designed for different customer classes. If it offers alternative plans, all of the plans offered should provide the same proportionate equality and the packer should inform competing customers of the various alternative plans.
When a packer, in good faith, offers a basic plan, including alternatives, which is reasonably fair and nondiscriminatory and refrains from taking any steps which would prevent any customer, or class of customers, from participating in its program, it shall be deemed to have satisfied its obligation to make its plan functionally available to all customers, and the failure of any customer or customers to participate in the program shall not be deemed to place the packer in violation of the provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
1 In order to avoid the tailoring of promotional programs that discriminate against particular customers or class of customers, the packer in offering to pay allowances for newspaper advertising should offer to pay the same percentage of the cost of newspaper advertising for all competing customers in a newspaper of the customer's choice, or at least in those newspapers that meet the requirements for second class mail privileges.
(d) Need to understand terms - In informing customers of the details of a plan, the packer should provide them sufficient information to give a clear understanding of the exact terms of the offer, including all alternatives, and the conditions upon which payment will be made or services furnished.
(e) Checking customer's use of payments - The packer should take reasonable precautions to see that services it is paying for are furnished and also that it is not overpaying for them. Moreover, the customer should expend the allowance solely for the purpose for which it was given. If the packer knows or should know that what it pays or furnishes is not being properly used by some customers, the improper payments or services should be discontinued. 2
2 The granting of allowances or payments that have little or no relationship to cost or approximate cost of the service provided by the retailer may be considered a violation of section 202 of the Act.
A packer who, in good faith, takes reasonable and prudent measures to verify the performance of its competing customers will be deemed to have satisfied its obligations under the Act. Also, a packer who, in good faith, concludes a promotional agreement with wholesalers or other intermediaries and who otherwise conforms to the standards of Item 5 shall be deemed to have satisfied this obligation. If a packer has taken such steps, the fact that a particular customer has retained an allowance in excess of the cost, or approximate cost if the actual cost is not known, of services performed by the customer shall not alone be deemed to place a packer in violation of the Act.
(When customers may have different but closely related costs in furnishing services that are difficult to determine such as the cost for distributing coupons from a bulletin board or using a window banner, the packer may furnish to each customer the same payment if it has a reasonable relationship to the cost of providing the service or is not grossly in excess thereof.)
4. Competing customers. The packer is required to provide in its plan only for those customers who compete with each other in the resale of the packer's products of like grade and quality. Therefore a packer should make available to all competing wholesalers any plan providing promotional payments or services to wholesalers, and similarly should make available to all competing retailers any plan providing promotional payments or services to retailers. With these requirements met, a packer can limit the area of its promotion. However, this section is not intended to deal with the question of a packer's liability for use of an area promotion where the effect may be to injure the packer's competition.
5. Wholesaler or third party performance of packer's obligations. A packer may, in good faith, enter into written agreements with intermediaries, such as wholesalers, distributors or other third parties, including promoters of tripartite promotional plans, which provide that such intermediaries will perform all or part of the packer's obligations under this part. However, the interposition of intermediaries between the packer and its customers does not relieve the packer of its ultimate responsibility of compliance with the provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The packer, in order to demonstrate its good faith effort to discharge its obligations under this part, should include in any such agreement provisions that the intermediary will:
(1) Give notice to the packer's customers in conformity with the standards set forth in items 3(b) and (d), supra;
(2) Check customer performance in conformity with the standards set forth in item 3(e), supra;
(3) Implement the plan in a manner which will insure its functional availability to the packer's customers in conformity with the standards set forth in item 3(c), supra (This must be done whether the plan is one devised by the packer itself or by the intermediary for use by the packer's customers.); and
(4) Provide certification in writing and at reasonable intervals that the packer's customers have been and are being treated in conformity with the agreement.
A packer who negotiates such agreements with its wholesalers, distributors or third party promoters will be considered by the Administration to have justified its “good faith” obligations under this section only if it accompanies such agreements with the following supplementary measures: At regular intervals the packer takes affirmative steps to verify that its customers are receiving the proportionally equal treatment to which they are entitled by making spot checks designed to reach a representative cross section of its customers. Whenever such spot checks indicate that the agreements are not being implemented in such a way that its customers are receiving such proportionally equal treatment, the packer takes immediate steps to expand or to supplement such agreements in a manner reasonably designed to eliminate the repetition or continuation of any such discriminations in the future.
Intermediaries, subject to the Packers and Stockyards Act, administering promotional assistance programs on behalf of a packer may be in violation of the provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act, if they have agreed to perform the packer's obligations under the Act with respect to a program which they have represented to be usable and suitable for all the packer's competing customers if it should later develop that the program was not offered to all or, if offered, was not usable or suitable, or was otherwise administered in a discriminatory manner.
6. Customer's liability. A customer, subject to the Packers and Stockyards Act, who knows, or should know, that it is receiving payments or services which are not available on proportionally equal terms to its competitors engaged in the resale of the same packer's products may be in violation of the provisions of the Act. Also, customers (subject to the Packers and Stockyards Act) that make unauthorized deductions from purchase invoices for alleged advertising or other promotional allowances may be proceeded against under the provisions of the Act.
7. Meeting competition. A packer charged with discrimination under the provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act may defend its actions by showing that the payments were made or the services were furnished in good faith to meet equally high payments made by a competing packer to the particular customer, or to meet equivalent services furnished by a competing packer to the particular customer. This defense, however, is subject to important limitations. For instance, it is insufficient to defend solely on the basis that competition in a particular market is very keen, requiring that special allowances be given to some customers if a packer is “to be competitive.”
8. Cost justification. It is no defense to a charge of unlawful discrimination in the payment of an allowance or the furnishing of a service for a packer to show that such payment or service could be justified through savings in the cost of manufacture, sale, or delivery.