In general, American consumers are willing to pay extra for a premium product that has to be imported. That’s because they realize that getting that product to the shelf costs more than an item that is produced in the contiguous U.S. However, what happens when a product merely gives the impression of being imported? Are those consumers then entitled to a cash settlement to compensate them for being misled?
That question is at the heart of a California lawsuit that was recently filed against Craft Brew Alliance Inc. Craft Brew produces Kona Brewing Co. beers, which feature labels crammed with images that look like they are straight out of Hawaii. The problem, as consumers Sara Cilloni and Simone Zimmer point out in their complaint, is that Kona Brewing Co. beers aren’t brewed anywhere near the islands. Instead, they are created in facilities in Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and New Hampshire. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status on behalf of consumers.
Plaintiffs allege that people “are willing to pay more for items, because they are from Hawaii,” when in reality, they are produced in the contiguous 48 states. Portland, Oregon-based Craft Brew has yet to comment on the pending litigation. The company does have a brewing facility and brew pub in Hawaii, but it only produces a scant 12,000 barrels a year, none of which make it to the mainland.
This type of litigation is nothing new in the beverage industry. Anheuser-Busch InBev has been the target of more than one similar lawsuit. As the largest brewer in the world, it stands to reason that Anheuser-Busch would attract some litigation. In fact, a judge ordered them to pay a $20 million settlement in 2015 for purportedly allowing consumers to believe that its Beck’s label beer was made in Germany. Beck’s was initially a German product, but Anheuser-Busch has been producing it in St. Louis since 2012.
The current lawsuit is only in its earliest stages. Nonetheless, it is a helpful reminder to all companies to review their labeling and marketing practices to ensure that they are not vulnerable to similar litigation.