An Oregon Hard Seltzer Company Sued Michelob Over Its 'Organic' Claims
Last weekend, Anheuser-Busch advertised its Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer with a star-studded (and undoubtedly expensive) Super Bowl commercial that featured a half-dozen celebrity lookalikes and a very real Don Cheadle.
"I want a hard seltzer that's USDA-certified organic," a guy who looked like singer Maluma said, before (actual) Cheadle repeated the claim that "Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer is real." What that ad didn't say was that Michelob's Seltzer was the "first of its kind organic option" and the "only" organic seltzer to be certified by the USDA, descriptors that were the subject of a recent lawsuit.
According to Oregon Live, Oregon-based Suzie's Brewery Company sued the beverage giant on February 2, alleging that Michelob's previous claims were inaccurate, because it has been selling its own USDA-certified organic hard seltzer since last summer. Suzie's Organic Hard Seltzer is available in six states, and the company has argued that Michelob's claims hurt smaller competitors by alleging that Ultra Organic Seltzer is "a unique, one-of-a-kind product."
Michelob's attorneys said that the ads were just misinterpreted, and that they really meant that Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer was the only USDA-certified organic seltzer that was sold nationwide, not that it was the only one, period. Suzie's legal counsel didn't buy that, and neither did the judge.
"They claim they meant first one in national commerce," attorney Daniel Peterson said, according to Courthouse News. "That's just simply not how grammar works and not how the public is perceiving the matter."
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon agreed. "[T]here seems to me a big difference between saying that a seltzer is distributed nationally versus calling a seltzer 'national' and expecting people to understand that what you mean by that is that it is distributed nationally," he said.
Simon also issued a temporary restraining order, preventing Michelob from running any advertisement that uses the "only" USDA-certified seltzer or "first of its kind claims." That ruling will remain in place for 28 days, and a future hearing will be held to try to reach an agreement for what Michelob can and can't say going forward.
"All that Anheuser-Busch needs to do is change every instance of its advertising statements that Michelob ULTRA Hard Seltzer is 'the only' (or 'the first') 'national USDA certified organic hard seltzer' to read that Michelob ULTRA Hard Seltzer is the only (or the first) USDA certified organic hard seltzer distributed nationally," Simon wrote in his 25-page ruling. "If Anheuser-Busch prefers, because it is less expensive, it may simply delete the words 'only' and 'first.' There is nothing false about describing Michelob ULTRA organic hard seltzers as a 'national USDA certified organic hard seltzer.'"
In a statement following the ruling, Anheuser-Busch, uh... well, it just kind of moved some of those words around a bit. "The truth matters. Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer is the first USDA Certified Organic hard seltzer distributed nationally," the company told Oregon Live. "The Court's Order allows us to continue making this true statement."