Top Tips for Importing Alcohol into the U.S. Market

Use these tips to develop a strategy that will help your new beverage alcohol brand successfully enter and take hold in a crowded industry.

While the final numbers are not in, alcohol sales in the U.S. are expected to hit $166.4 billion for 2019. This makes the U.S. a lucrative market, but also a competitive one. There is an endless list of companies looking to secure their share of the market, but without a unique product and excellent promotion efforts, it is all too easy to get lost in the shuffle. Use these tips to develop a strategy for importing alcohol successfully into the United States and gain solid footing in a crowded market.

Understand the Market Landscape before Importing Alcohol

One key to successfully importing alcohol brands is to understand the market landscape. That means having a clear vision of why your product is different and being able to articulate that to potential customers. It is also important to note that alcohol regulations vary by state, so you will need to be aware of and adhere to different requirements.

When it comes to better understanding the market landscape and conducting competitive market research, you have three options:

  1. Hire a national alcohol importer with the knowledge and skills to help you navigate a variety of challenges.
  2. Appoint a compliance service provider who can streamline the regulation process.
  3. Go it alone and act as your own importer. While this may be the most cost-effective option, it will require a substantial amount of hard work and research on your part.

Featured Resource: Regulation 101 For Alcohol Brands

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Secure the Proper Permits for Importing Alcohol to the U.S.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency all work together to regulate imported alcohol. These organizations will be responsible for reviewing applications and approving permits. First and foremost, you will need to apply for a Federal Basic Importer’s Permit, which requires a U.S. based office or a contract with a licensed importer. 

You will also need to acquire a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA). This permit ensures that you are properly marketing products in compliance with federal regulations. Keep in mind that you will need to secure a COLA for each product you sell. 

Understand the Three Tier System

The alcohol market relies on the three-tier system:

Tier 1: The producer

These are the companies and individuals that create, produce and package beverages, which are then sold to distributors. 

Tier 2: The distributor

These companies are responsible for getting products to market and can range from large-scale operations to smaller teams.

Tier 3: The retailer

These establishments range from places where you buy alcohol, including grocery stores and gas stations, to bars and restaurants where you both purchase and consume the alcohol. 

Benefits of Three-Tier System for Importing Alcohol

While not everyone agrees with or appreciates the three-tier system because it adds a barrier between producers and consumers, it does offer advantages, especially to importers. As a producer or importer, you can rely on the distributor to cultivate relationships with retailers and promote your products. Essentially, they act as a sales team, but they aren’t on your payroll. 

You can also use their network to gather market information and continue to expand your reach. The producer and the distributor are working towards a common goal of growth, which can make it a mutually beneficial relationship.

How to Promote Your Liquor Brand  

There is a good chance that you don’t have a million dollar marketing budget. Not to worry. Promoting your brand doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated when you’re importing your alcohol brand. 

Brand Activations

A good way to start is by sponsoring events that will be attended by your target audience. Whether you support a recreational sports league or sponsor a summer music festival, these events are a great way to generate brand awareness.  

Social Media

Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Connect with influencers. Hold caption contests. Post often and actively engage with your followers.

Google Ads

Invest in Google AdWords campaigns so that you can automatically serve ads to people who are conducting specific searches or fall within certain demographics. The more people see your brand, the more likely they are to click on a link and visit your site. 


Take the time to create strong content. Your online presence will play an essential role in promoting your liquor brand. Continue to regularly publish high-quality content that speaks to your audience and drives SEO efforts. Also, use your site to tell a compelling brand story that helps to set you apart.

Alcohol Importing Wrapped Up

Entering the U.S market with a new brand can be an intimidating process, but when you are armed with a great product and knowledge about what it takes to be an importer, you can take advantage of this lucrative market. Use these tips to get started on your alcohol import business.

FAQs on Importing Alcohol

How do I enter the U.S. market with a new alcohol brand?

Understand the market landscape and decide whether you want to hire a national importer, compliance expert or navigate brand-building, marketing and regulatory compliance issues on your own.

How do I get a U.S. license to import wine, beer or spirits?

Apply for a Federal Basic Importer’s Permit. To be eligible, you must either have a business located in the U.S. or have a working contract with someone who is already a licensed importer.

How does the three-tier system work?

The system consists of producers or importers, distributors and retailers. Producers make the products, which are then sold directly to distributors. From there, distributors sell the products to retailers who then make alcohol available to consumers.

Why do distributors exist?

Distributors work to build a network of retailers that can then sell products. This removes marketing and sales responsibilities from the producers and creates a sales team that doesn’t have to be paid.

How can I promote my liquor brand?

Sponsor local teams and events, stay active on social media, use Google AdWords to target online consumers and create a compelling website with excellent content. 



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