Lawsuit accuses Anheuser-Busch of watering down beers

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Beer consumers have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) of watering down so-called "King of Beers" Budweiser and other alcoholic beverages to boost profits, attorneys for the plaintiffs said on Tuesday.

The lead lawsuit, which the company dismissed as groundless, says the alcohol content is mislabeled on the brands Budweiser, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum and Bud Light Lime.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say their lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco on Friday, could affect tens of millions of consumers of products from Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer.

Josh Boxer, an attorney behind the legal challenge, acknowledged his San Rafael, California-based Mills Law Firm is not basing its claims on independent testing of Anheuser-Busch products taken from store shelves.

"We learned about the mislabelling from a number of former employees of AB (Anheuser-Busch) at breweries throughout the United States," Boxer said. "And some high-level guys at the brewery level all told us that as a matter of AB corporate policy, these target brands are watered down."

Aside from the lead lawsuit in California, companion suits were being filed this week in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states, Boxer said. There will be about a dozen lawsuits in total, he said.

The plaintiffs' attorneys plan to ask a judge to designate their legal challenges as a class-action lawsuit.

They are seeking restitution for U.S. consumers that they say could amount to tens of millions of dollars, and a court injunction to impose requirements on how Anheuser-Busch labels and regulates alcohol content in its beers.

"We have a situation here where a nationwide class of beer drinking consumers has been denied the full value that they paid for AB's products," Boxer said.

Peter Kraemer, vice president of brewing and supply at Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement the lawsuits were "groundless" and the company's beers were in "full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws."

"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," Kramer said.

The plaintiffs in the lead lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco are Nina Giampaoli and John Elbert. Giampaoli for the past four years has bought a six-pack of Budweiser every week, the lawsuit said.

The suit accuses Anheuser-Busch of watering down beers right before bottling, which the complaint states shaves "the total alcohol content to well below the percentage stated" on labels. The plaintiffs' attorneys said that, in court, they will seek to obtain documents from Anheuser-Busch's in-house measurements to demonstrate how much the company's beers are diluted.

In 2011, Anheuser-Busch InBev had revenues of $39 billion and it sold 125 million hectoliters (3.3 billion gallons) of beverages in North America that year, according to its annual report. The proposed class-action lawsuit would only involve U.S. consumers.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

Updated Date: Feb 27, 2013 06:45 AM

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