Tucker Ronzetti from Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, the Miami law firm that is counsel for this case and an allied case (still ongoing) against ABI relating to its Beck’s brand, told BeverageDaily.com: “We are pleased the parties were able to resolve the dispute amicably for themselves and the class.”
The suit relating to Kirin Ichiban – which ABI brews for sale in the States under the terms of a joint venture with Japan’s Kirin Brewing Company – was filed in October 2014 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court by consumers Lady L. Suarez and Gustavo E. Olivia.
The complaint referenced Japanese lettering on the bottle and the Far Eastern-style dragon that lends the beer its name; like Beck’s, the drink was originally brewed in Japan (where it originated) but Anheuser-Busch started producing it in the US from the mid-1990s.
‘Consumers believe they are buying imported beer’ – Original complaint
According to the original complaint, filed in October 2013, Kirin Ichiban was packaged, marketed and advertised to deceive consumers into believing they were buying a product made in Japan.
“Consumers believe they are purchasing beer imported from Japan brewed with Japanese ingredients, when in fact they are purchasing beer brewed in California and Virginia with ingredients from the United States,” the original complaint reads.
An Anheuser-Busch spokesman told BeverageDaily.com that the brewer had reached a compromise in the Kirin labeling case.
"We believe our labeling, packaging and marketing of Kirin Ichiban and Kirin Light have always been truthful. A-B proudly brews these beers in the U.S. under Kirin’s strict supervision, with 100% malt and a special ‘first press’ process. We look forward to continuing to bring premium Japanese-style pilsners to consumers," he said.
A key feature of the Beck’s case filed by Marty et al. relates to the discrepancy – in the plaintiff’s eyes – between the higher price they paid for what they thought was a premium imported beer like Beck’s versus a ‘US’ brew like Budweiser – despite the fact that the former is now brewed in the US not Germany.
In the Beck’s case, Anheuser-Busch hit back by insisting that the beer is, nonetheless, brewed according to a German recipe and to purity standards enshrined in the nation’s Reinheitsgebot.
Controversy over Beck’s on-pack text: ‘Product of USA’
But in that case complainants Marty et al. said consumers have been tricked – by beer labels and secondary packaging they allege is misleading – into thinking that the beer is German in the sense of ‘Made in Germany’, and claim on-pack text such as ‘Product of USA’ is either too small or obscured.
Similarly, in the Kirin case, labels on bottles read: ‘Brewed under Kirin’s strict supervision by Anheuser-Busch, Los Angeles, CA, and Williamsburg, VA.’ But the plaintiff’s claim this text can only be seen once consumers take a bottle of Kirin Ichiban out of a six pack cardboard pack.
After Anheuser-Busch lawyers failed to stop the Beck’s suit – an amended complaint was filed on March 31 2014 – last September, Ronzetti told us that he was pleased that the judge had ruled that the case could proceed on the basis of unjust enrichment and consumer protection violation claims.
Ronzetti, who heads up Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton’s commercial and complex litigation department, said last September: “We are pleased that the court has seen the merits of our claims, and we look forward to working to protect consumers’ rights as the case continues.”
We were awaiting a comment from Anheuser-Busch on the Kirin case at the time of publication.