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Drinkers sue Bud over watered down beer

Added: Wednesday, February 27th 2013

Beer lovers across the United States have accused Anheuser- Busch of watering down its Budweiser, Michelob and other brands, in class-action suits seeking millions of dollars in damages. The law suits, filed in Pennsylvania, California and other states, claim consumers have been cheated out of the alcohol content stated on labels. Budweiser and Michelob each boast of being 5 per cent alcohol, while some “light versions” are said to be just over 4 per cent.

The law suits are based on information from former employees of the company’s 13 U.S. breweries, some in high-level plant positions, according to lead lawyer Josh Boxer of San Rafael, California.

“Our information comes from former employees at Anheuser-Busch, who have informed us that as a matter of corporate practice, all of their products mentioned [in the law suits] are watered down,” Boxer said. “It’s a simple cost-cutting measure and it’s very significant.”

The excess water is added just before bottling and cuts the stated alcohol content by 3 per cent to 8 per cent, he added.

Anheuser-Busch InBev called the claims “groundless” and said its beers fully comply with labelling laws. “Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labelling laws. We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beers, which have made them the best-selling in the U.S. and the world,” Peter Kraemer, vice-president of brewing and supply, said in a statement.

The suit involves 10 Anheuser-Busch products: Budweiser, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice and Bud Light Lime.

Anheuser-Busch, based in St Louis, Missouri, merged with InBev in 2008 to form the world’s largest alcohol producer, headquartered in Belgium. In 2001, the company produced 10 billion gallons of malt beverages, 3 billion of them in the U.S., and reported $22 billion in profits from that category, the law suit says. According to the suit, the company has sophisticated equipment that measures the alcohol content throughout the brewing process and is accurate to within one-hundredth of a per cent. But following the merger, the company increasingly chose to dilute its popular brands, the law suit alleges.

“Following the merger, AB vigorously accelerated the deceptive practices, sacrificing the quality products once produced by Anheuser-Busch in order to reduce costs,” says the lead law suit, filed in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of consumers in the lower 48 states. Companion suits are being filed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere. Each seeks at least $5 million in damages.

One of the California plaintiffs, Nina Gaimpaoli of Sonoma County, said she had bought a six-pack of Budweiser every week for the past four years. “I think it’s wrong for huge corporations to lie to their loyal customers – I really feel cheated. No matter what the product is, people should be able to rely on the information companies put on their labels, Gaimpaoli says in a new release issued by Boxer’s law firm.

Tony Jennings, chief executive of Budvar UK, the British subsidiary of Czech brewery Budweiser Budvar, commented: “To me, this sounds like a continuation of the horse meat business here in Europe. It reflects a dramatic decline in trust between the consumer and the producer. Fortunately for us at Budvar, being small, local and traditional, that trust doesn’t have to be challenged.”

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