Recently, the JETLaw blog detailed Anheuser-Busch’s trademark dispute over the use of “Bud” in regions of Europe, but now the company faces a different legal dispute in the United States.  The company now faces allegations that it intentionally lowers the alcohol content of many of its beverages by using extra water in its brewing process.  Specifically, the complaint alleges that through an Anton Paar meter, Anheuser-Busch can measure the alcohol content of its beer within one one-hundredth of a percent.  However, instead of using this technology to ensure the accuracy of the stated alcohol content included on all Anheuser-Busch beverages, the company allegedly uses it to facilitate the watering down of its products.  Thus, the alcohol content indicated on a bottle of Bud Light is higher than the actual alcohol content in the bottle and Anheuser-Busch is intentionally deceiving its customers.

The complaint does not actually cite any tests that show Anheuser-Busch’s products are actually mislabeled.  Instead, it seems to assume the stated alcohol content would not match what is actually in a given product if it were tested.  In an interview with NPR, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys claimed that its allegations are supported by former Anheuser-Busch employees.  However, these allegations do seem to be in jeopardy after NPR actually conducted tests checking the alcohol content of a few Anheuser-Busch products.  While NPR only tested three Anheuser-Busch samples, the results revealed the alcohol content to be either exactly as advertised or only .01% off.  These results seem to undermine allegations that Anheuser-Busch is deliberately misleading its customers.

In response to the allegations, Anheuser-Busch tweeted NPR’s findings and took out newspaper advertisements that seem to poke fun at the complaint.  The advertisements feature a bottle of water with the text “They must have tested one of these.”  Perhaps in a move to generate goodwill, the ads also helpfully show that Anheuser-Busch donates the water to the American Red Cross.  Still, the company’s response has been insufficient according to some in the marketing field.

In the complaint filed in the Northern District of California, the plaintiffs allege that they bought Anheuser-Busch products based on the alcohol content specified on the packaging.  And, had they known the alcohol content was less than specified, the plaintiffs would not have purchased the Anheuser-Busch beverages.  But, how realistic is this argument?  Is it believable that the plaintiffs really were so reliant on the alcohol content in making their purchases?  Is this something consumers take into consideration in buying beer?  Finally, while Anheuser-Busch products may taste watered down compared to other beverages, does this really matter if actual testing reveals the stated alcohol content is spot-on?

Kimberly Smith

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3 Responses to King of Watered Down Beer?

  1. CLA says:

    As someone who used to go to college, YES, people absolutely pick beers based on the alcohol content. I knew some people who drink malt liquor as the best bang for their buck (high gravity, $2 for the 40 oz). Even if you’re not picking solely on alcohol content, it’s almost always a consideration. Other variations on the calculus I’ve seen include the alcohol content to calorie ratio for those who are weight conscious but like to party.

  2. JL says:

    I am surprised that marketing experts consider Anheuser-Busch’s response to the allegations to be insufficient. The complaint seems fairly ridiculous, and any serious response from the company risks drawing further attention to the allegations. Anheuser-Busch did a nice job poking fun at the situation–in particular, I really enjoyed the “They must have tested one of these” advertisements.

  3. Francie Kammeraad says:

    Great post Kim! A recent article in the Huffington post just asserted that people likely can’t even tell if beer is slightly watered down. The author of the article mixed cans of Budweiser with seltzer and then asked fellow Huffington Post employees to do a blind taste test and pick out the watered down beers. They couldn’t! Thus, beer drinkers don’t seem to mind the taste of slightly watered down beer, even if they do feel they were misled by inaccurate labels and advertising. See the article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/watered-down-budweiser_n_2829460.html