Sapporo Beer's imported claims called into question in the US

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

"Although the company maintains the illusion that it is imported from Japan, all Sapporo Beer sold in the US is brewed in North America," the class action lawsuit stated.
"Although the company maintains the illusion that it is imported from Japan, all Sapporo Beer sold in the US is brewed in North America," the class action lawsuit stated.

Related tags United states North america Pleading

Sapporo U.S.A Inc. was hit with a potential class action lawsuit alleging the company misleads US consumers by touting its beer as the oldest beer in Japan, and markets the beer as if it were imported. 

As the plaintiff stated in the court document, the beer sold in North America is brewed in the US and Canada, not imported from Japan.

Filed in New York Federal Court, the class action lawsuit accuses Sapporo’s marketing campaign of violating New York General Business Law and constitutes negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and unjust enrichment.

Problematic packaging

The lawsuit alleges that Sapporo leads consumers into thinking its beer is imported in several ways, including using the word “imported”​ on its label.

Additionally, the plaintiff points out that Sapporo’s use of the North Star on its packaging, is allegedly a symbol of the pioneers in the geographic area of Sapporo, Japan, which further misleads consumers of its true brewing origins.

When asked for comment the company's public relations company Colangelo & Partners said: 

"Originally founded in Sapporo, Japan in 1876, Sapporo takes pride in its heritage and integrity. Sapporo is required by US law to label products that are brewed outside the United States as 'imported.' In compliance with the law, Sapporo products sold in the US clearly state that the contents are brewed in either La Crosse, Wisconsin or Guelph, Canada."

The company includes one line of text under each of its individual product pages on its website stating: “Sapporo products sold in the US are brewed in the US and Canada.”

Connection to Japan

According to the document, the Japanese government established and oversaw the construction of a beer company in 1876 in Japan that eventually became Sapporo.

Although Sapporo beer was first brought to the United States in 1964, it wasn’t until 1984 when Sapporo U.S.A., Inc. was established and began brewing Sapporo beer varieties  --  Sapporo Premium, Sapporo Reserve, and Sapporo Premium Light sold in 12 and 22 ounce cans, and 12, 16, and 20.3 ounce bottles -- in La Crosse, Wisconsin or in Guelph, Ontario. Further bolstering its North America presence, Sapporo acquired Canada’s third largest brewery, Sleeman.

“Most breweries proudly display the location where their products are brewed,”​ alleged the plaintiff in her complaint. “Here, Defendant is misleading its customers to believe that Sapporo Beer is imported from Japan, not brewed in North America.”

‘The Original Japanese Beer’?

The plaintiff also alleges that Sapporo exacerbates its misleading packaging and labeling by using an “overall marketing campaign, online and in advertisements that misleads the consuming public to believe that the product is imported from Japan,”​ that includes “bragging”​ on its website that “Sapporo is the original Japanese beer.”

Moreover, in television commercials, Sapporo alludes to the beer being imported with images of a Japanese landscape being traveled into American landscape, finishing with the beer’s slogan as “The Original Japanese Beer."

The plaintiff also claims that Sapporo knows consumers will pay more for beer they think is imported because of the perception that the beer is better quality and because consumers believe they are paying for increased costs associated with importing the beer.

*The case is Bowring v. Sapporo U.S.A. Inc, Case No. 1:16-cv-01858, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.