A little too crafty: Walmart lawsuit a warning to big brewers and private labels

Walmart’s ‘Trouble Brewing’ range of faux craft beers has led to a class action lawsuit being filed against the brand.

A lawsuit has been filed against US retail giant Walmart alleging it intentionally deceived drinkers into thinking they were consuming a legitimate craft beer from a boutique source.

The suit claims Walmart invented a fictitious brewery, ‘Trouble Brewing’ – an ironically apt brand name in hindsight – to capitalise on growing demand for craft-beer. (Not to be confused with the Irish brewery of the same name or California’s Double Trouble Brewing.)

The class action suit was raised by Matthew Adam of Ohio, on behalf himself of all other Ohio residents who “purchased and relied upon the ‘craft beer’ representations” of the Trouble Brewing range.

Beer drinkers have been developing a more refined palate the world over for some years now and the microbrewery trend continues. In the face of declining sales and consumer brand loyalty, large scale beer manufacturers and retailers have rushed to cash in on the trend. It’s led to many successful microbreweries being bought out, mass produced beers rebranding to more boutique style aesthetics and releasing new ranges of artisan-style options.

In the US, the lawsuit against Walmart alleges the parent company is too large to market itself as ‘craft beer,’ which is defined by the Brewers Association as less than six million barrels of annual production, reports Paste.

Paste writes that the beer is not brewed by a company called Trouble Brewing, as the label suggests, but by Genesee Brewing Company. Genesee is owned by North American Breweries, which is owned by Cerveceria Costa Rica, a subsidiary of Costa Rican company Florida Ice and Farm Co.

Further complicating matters, Beeradvocate.com has entries for three of Trouble Brewing’s products listed, among many other brands, under the profile of California-based company World Brews which, the website says, is a subsidiary of Winery Exchange, a private label beer supplier. World Brews’ website doesn’t list Trouble Brewing on its page of brands it’s created, but several of the brand names that are listed include the term ‘Brewing Company’, suggesting manufacturing independence. As is the norm for private label, many of the label designs bear striking resemblances to big-name brands.

It’s happened in Australia too, with Woolworths releasing Sail and Anchor, Coles with Steam Rail Ale, as a couple of examples. In 2012, Little World Beverages, owner of Little Creatures Brewery, was bought out by Lion. Lion also owns the Malt Shovel Brewery (formerly the Hahn brewery) that produces the James Squire brand.

Should Australia’s liquor and retail giants be worried by the Walmart lawsuit?

trouble brewing walmart

 

In Australia the standards are different. A craft beer is defined by the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association as independent, traditional and 100% Australian owned with no ownership or control by a major brewer, reports Choice.

While the above Australian examples then, would not fit the bill as real craft beers, the lines become blurred with the question as to whether they are truly claiming to be craft beers, or simply replicating a boutique brand identity to cater to an existing trend (or whether they are even prohibited from claiming to be ‘craft’).

It’s also unclear whether Walmart should be phased by the lawsuit. A class action lawsuit was previously brought against brewing giant Coors about its Blue Moon beer, also claiming that the brand was deceiving drinkers about its origins. The grounds of the suit surrounded the fact that the beer itself wasn’t actually brewed by ‘Blue Moon Brewing Co’ as its label suggested, but instead MillerCoors, Newser reports. That particular lawsuit was dropped by the judge because the Blue Moon Brewing Co name was filed with the necessary paperwork with California’s fictitious business name registry.

Similarly, with the Walmart lawsuit, the issue will likely come down to whether the degree of deception present is enough to constitute a problem, concludes Paste‘s Jim Vorel.

 

Further reading

 
Image copyright: okorokovanatalya / 123RF Stock Photo

Ben Ice
BY Ben Ice ON 17 February 2017