SF Attorney Sues the World's Largest Beer Producer to Halt Proposed Merger

The world's largest beer company wants to swallow the world's second largest, in a merger that San Francisco attorney Joseph Alioto says would create an unfair beer monopoly.

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV — which produces Budweiser, Michelob, Stella Artois, Natural Light, and Beck's — is the beer industry titan looking to buy SABMiller, brewer of Miller, Coors, Foster's, and Blue Moon.

As Bloomberg reports, Alioto filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 23 consumers who argue that the proposed $110 billion acquisition would violate antitrust laws. The suit was filed in Oregon, which attorney Christopher Cauble explained to The Oregonian is “more impacted…due to our large craft beer industry and the large amount of people who drink craft beers.”

[jump] Anheuser-Busch dismisses the outcry from local and craft brewers. Jack Blood, the company's VP of legal and corporate affairs, released a statement noting that, “The U.S. beer market has never been more competitive, with strong growth from craft brewers, and nothing in this transaction will change that fact.”

But plaintiffs — 19 Oregonians, three Californians, and one Washingtonian — counter that such a monopoly will drive up beer prices while driving down quality. They're not seeking money; they just want to halt the merger.

“…plaintiffs are threatened with loss or damage in the form of higher beer prices and less consumer options. If defendants' proposed transaction is consummated, plaintiffs will sustain irreparable harm for which damages will be unable to compensate plaintiffs, in that competition once lost cannot easily be restored,” the lawsuit states.

According to the Brewers Association, which represents craft beer companies, California ranks first in the number of craft breweries, with 431 in the state, and an economic impact of $6.8 million annually.

Bart Watson of the Brewers Association told SF Weekly that in addition to producing more barrels annually as a result of the merger, Anheuser-Busch would also have far more access to raw materials, putting the company at an unfair advantage over smaller, more local craft breweries. 

“We want to ensure that an independent and competitive distribution tier remains in place,” Watson said. 

Nationally, there are more than 3,400 craft breweries in the U.S. Last year, the industry saw an 18 percent increase in production, according to the Brewers Association. 

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