Headline writers across the country are salivating over news that Anheuser-Busch is being sued for supposedly watering down and mislabeling its beer brands.
The made-for-media suit attempts to create a class-action case for consumers allegedly being cheated out of alcohol content in their Budweisers and Michelobs. The case is said to be based on information garnered from former employees at the company’s U.S. breweries.
Beer giant Anheuser-Busch is taking the right initial course in this sensational lawsuit. The company offered a simple statement, calling the claims “groundless” and “completely false” and relying on its history of brewing and its millions of devoted customers.
"Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws,” Peter Kraemer, vice president of brewing and supply, said in a statement to the media
. “We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beers, which have made them the best-selling in the U.S. and the world.”
The lawsuit cites 10 Anheuser-Busch products: Budweiser, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice, and Bud Light Lime.
with InBev in 2008, creating the world’s largest beer maker.
Over the coming weeks and months, the beer company must fight back and take its side of the story straight to consumers.
Not surprising, the California law firm leading the case—The Mills Law Firm
—is no stranger to headline-grabbing suits. In its press release, it quotes sympathetic plaintiffs as saying:
“I think it’s wrong for huge corporations to lie to their loyal customers. I really feel cheated. No matter what the product is, people should be able to rely on the information companies put on their labels.”
The story broke Tuesday, and the media pored over the claims, including how lead plaintiffs Thomas and Gerald Greenberg routinely buy up to four cases of Bud a month. It’s a juicy story, and Anheuser-Busch hasn’t had a chance yet to create balance in the coverage.
As with many class-action suits, attorneys try to drum up media attention to pressure companies into quick settlements before the cases even reach the courtroom. The story has bounced around social media; on Twitter, it’s mainly jokes about the beer’s alcohol content.
For instance, Craig Newman, managing editor for the Chicago Sun-Times
Budweiser, which joined Twitter in January to help promote its Super Bowl commercials, has not responded to the criticism on social media.
What would Taco Bell do?
Anheuser-Busch would be wise to follow the example of Taco Bell when the restaurant chain was faced with a lawsuit over the ingredients in its beef products.
In response, Taco Bell took out full-page ads in major newspapers, aired television spots, and launched a YouTube
and online campaign to assert its taco filling is 88 percent beef.
It worked, the case was dropped
, and Taco Bell created a proactive opportunity from a negative media experience.
In this latest case, Anheuser-Busch still has time to convince its customers that the glass is indeed half full, ideally with the facts to support it.
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.