Florida resident Francisco Rene Marty claims in a nationwide class action filed on October 9 that AB InBev is committing unfair and deceptive practices by marketing of Beck’s via statements such as ‘German quality’.
But an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson hit back in a comment sent to BeverageDaily.com, slamming a "frivolous lawsuit with no basis" and insisting that nothing is more important to the firm "than the quality of our beers and the ingredients that go into them".
With imported beer sales booming, Beck’s is sold as a higher quality import at a “substantially higher price” than domestic beers, Marty argues – with AB InBev unjustly enriched accordingly – even though it is now brewed in the US using domestic ingredients.
For 225+ years, Beck’s pilsner was brewed in Bremen using spring barley from Southern England, crystal water from the ‘Rotenburger Rinne’ and Hallertau hops from South Germany.
But in 2012 AB InBev began brewing Beck’s in St. Louis, Missouri, to slash costs and increase profit margins, Marty adds in his Southern Florida filing; he insists that there is “substantial difference” in ingredient source and type between German and US-brewed Beck’s.
‘Heineken would never do such a thing…’
Marty quotes comments ING analyst Gerard Rijk made last year approvingly in the suit: “The authenticity of Beck’s is that it is a German brand with German water, with German malt, with German hops. This isn’t about brand building. It’s about costs. Heineken would never do such a thing.”
Although water, hops, barley and yeast are the key ingredients in almost every beer, the source of these ingredients made Beck’s special to US consumers, Marty claims, and he says US bars, restaurants and retailers also suffer from AB InBev’s alleged misrepresentations since they market Beck’s as an import.
Despite the fact that it is no longer imported, the marketing and advertising of Beck’s remains “mostly unchanged”, he claims.
Marty alleges that labelling on Beck’s six or twelve packs does not indicate that the beer is brewed in the USA using domestic ingredients, including Missouri water.
“In fact, the packaging for Beck’s boldly states that it is ‘German Quality’ beer ‘brewed under the German Purity Law of 1516’ and that it ‘Originated in Bremen, Germany’,” he states in his claim.
‘Beck's drinkers welcome US brewing’
The Beck’s Beer logo is unchanged and still uses the Bremen coat of arms, with bottles almost identical to old imported beer bottles bar (in the suit’s words) “obscure white text” on a silver background that mention manufacture in St Louis.
But Marty says this bottle labeling cannot be seen before 12-pack containers are purchased, cannot be seen in 6-pack packaging unless a bottle is removed and examined, and is inadequate to inform reasonable consumers that Beck’s Beer is no longer imported.
“Reasonable consumers…cannot or do not read the fine print on bottles until after they have already purchased Beck’s Beer. Even then, the print on the bottled label is ambiguous and difficult to read,” he claims.
Whereas most breweries proudly display their location, Marty alleges that Beck’s is misrepresenting its origins “to mislead consumers into thinking Beck’s Beer is the same imported product it has been for years”.
Beck's 'meticulously loyal' to German origins
However, the Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said that Beck’s beer was meticulously loyal to its German origins and to the 'Reinheitsgebot' (German Purity Law) in the 15 countries where it is brewed, and had been for years. "We are proud to employ our American brewmasters to brew it according to the exacting German standards where it was created," they said.
"Beck’s drinkers welcome its brewing in the United States, since our brewmasters carefully maintain the brand’s quality, taste and German recipe. This quality always comes first, and the label notes that it is a product of the USA," the spokesperson said.
"The Reinheitsgebot refers to beers made with only four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water, and Beck’s adheres firmly to these standards. We use the same recipe, high-quality ingredients and brewing process around the world, and brew it under the strict supervision of Beck’s brewmasters," they added.