Early this year, Anheuser-Busch settled a class suit filed against it by two Miami residents who alleged that the company was deceptively advertising Kirin beer as imported from Japan, when in fact it is brewed in the United States using domestic ingredients.
The plaintiffs, Lady J. Suarez and Gustavo E. Oliva, claimed they had each been buying about one six-pack of Kirin every month while under the mistaken impression the beer was made in Japan. They alleged Anheuser-Busch’s marketing and advertising misrepresented the beer’s origin and caused confusion among consumers. Although Kirin was initially made in Japan, it has been manufactured in the United States since 1996. The six-pack cases at issue depicted a Kirin, a dragon-like Japanese mythical creature, next to Japanese characters. Additionally, the company’s website described Kirin beers as “imported Japanese-style pilsners.” In fact, plaintiffs alleged, the beers were not imported but rather were made using domestic ingredients at two locations in California and Virginia.
The individual bottles of Kirin had labels that include fine print along the edge, stating that the beer was “Brewed under Kirin’s strict supervision by Anheuser-Busch, Los Angeles, CA and Williamsburg, VA.” However, according to the plaintiffs, this disclosure was inadequate. The beer would need to be removed from the six-pack case and the label closely examined in order to read the fine print, which the plaintiffs argued a reasonable consumer would not do before purchasing the beer.
The complaint additionally alleged that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for imported beer because of both increased shipping costs and a belief that foreign breweries produce a higher quality product and followed centuries-old traditions and brewing practices. Consequently, plaintiffs claimed Anheuser-Busch generated millions of dollars of profit it would not have earned had consumers known that Kirin beers were not actually imported from Japan.
Plaintiffs claimed this packaging, marketing and advertising of Kirin was intentionally designed to deceived consumers into believing they were purchasing Japanese beer. They also claimed these practices deceived not only individual consumers, but also restaurants, bars, and retailers. Their lawsuit, filed in late 2013, alleged that Anheuser-Busch violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The class-wide settlement agreement allows consumers who purchased Kirin beers to recover up to $50 per household in reimbursement for items purchased under the mistaken belief they had been imported. Consumers who bought Kirin beers from Oct. 25, 2009, through Dec. 17, 2014, will be able to recover 50 cents per six-pack of 12-ounce bottles, $1 per 12-pack of 12-ounce bottles, or 10 cents for each individual bottle or can. These reimbursements will be granted only if consumers supply proof of purchase. Consumers without proof of purchase will be able to recover a maximum of only $12 total. The settlement agreement also includes a $1 million fee award for class counsel, who made out rather better than did the class members.
In addition to the monetary payments, Anheuser-Busch also agreed display the current fine-print disclaimer: “Brewed under Kirin’s strict supervision by Anheuser-Busch in Los Angeles, CA and Williamsburg, VA” more prominently on Kirin beer bottles, to add it to all consumer-facing packages, and to refrain from describing Kirin beers as imported.