Suing beer brands for making false claims has practically become a cottage legal industry all its own. Brews purporting to be from almost every corner of the globe have been sued for not actually being made where consumers might think: not all Kirin comes from Japan, Beck’s isn’t always German and Fosters is typically made far from Australia. Blue Moon was sued for not being as “craft” as it claims. And Coors Light was even challenged in court for not always coming from the Rockies. Now, an Ohio man has sued Walmart claiming that the retail giant has been trying to pass off its own mass-produced, private label brews as worthy of a “craft beer” label.
According to the complaint (which was obtained by Consumerist), the plaintiff alleges that Walmart’s Trouble Brewing brand of beers, which since 2016 has sold products with names like Cat’s Away IPA and Round Midnight Belgian White, has been presenting “the false representation” that its products are “craft beer” despite not fitting the generally accepted definition of this term. The lawsuit alleges that Trouble Brewing “doesn’t really exist” – instead being brewed by a third party at the facilities of Genesee Brewing – but despite this, Walmart still stocks the beers alongside other craft beers and charges a premium for these products. “It is a wholesale fiction created by the Defendant that was designed to deceive consumers into purchasing the Craft Beer at a higher, inflated price,” the suit states.
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The lawsuit even throws Walmart’s own words back at them. “We were intentional about designing a package that conveyed a look and feel you’d expect of craft beer,” Teresa Budd, a senior buyer for Walmart’s adult beverage team, is quoted as saying in the complaint. Due to this deception, the plaintiff suggests that consumers paid more for these beers than they would have if they better understood these brews’ background.
The class action suit is looking to represent all Ohio residents who have purchased Trouble Brewing beers and, according to Courthouse News, “seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, fraud, and unjust enrichment, as well as an injunction preventing further false and misleading advertisements regarding the beer.”
“We hold our suppliers to high standards and are committed to providing our customers the quality products they expect," a Walmart spokesperson tells FWx in an official statement. "While we have not yet been served with the complaint, we take this matter seriously and intend to defend ourselves against the allegations.”
Though it’s easy to imagine a beer lover being disappointed after learning that his favorite new brewery is actually a Walmart marketing ploy, this case has many similarities with the aforementioned class action lawsuit filed against Blue Moon. That suit alleged that MillerCoors tried to obscure the fact that the massive brewery was the maker of the brand – a case that has been thrown out twice. In that instance, the decision seemed to leave the definition of “craft” as inherently ambiguous.
Updated Feb. 15 to reflect an official statement to FWx from Walmart.
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