|"If it's clear, it must be water, vodka|
or gin", muses Miffy. "... Oh,
my goodness -- it's actually beer!"
Another maker of sparkling beverages, Anheuser-Busch InBev, may be learning much the same lesson right now, if today's BBC report from the United States can be believed. It tells, in relevant part, the following tale:
"Drinkers sue Anheuser-Busch for 'watering down' beer
Beer drinkers in the US have filed a $5m (£3.3m) lawsuit accusing Anheuser-Busch of watering down its beer. The lawsuits, filed in Pennsylvania, California and other states, claim consumers have been cheated out of the alcohol content stated on beer labels. The suit involves 10 Anheuser-Busch beers including Budweiser and Michelob.
Anheuser-Busch InBev have called the claims "completely false", and said in a statement "our beers are in full compliance with labelling laws". The lawsuits are based on information from former employees at breweries owned by the multinational.
"Our information comes from former employees at Anheuser-Busch, who have informed us that, as a matter of corporate practice, all of their products mentioned [in the lawsuit] are watered down,"
lead lawyer Josh Boxer said. The complaint claimed that
This Kat doesn't know whether American beer-drinkers are qualitatively different from their European counterparts, but he suspects that they are unlikely to be enthused at the thought that their favourite beer ["Particularly one as weak and gassy as B ......", the strong ale-swilling Merpel tries to say while the Kat seeks to suppress her with a diplomatic paw ...] has been diluted. It is well known in Europe at least that beer drinkers, given the choice between beer and water, will generally opt for the former because it's more fun to drink and they don't mind paying more for it if they have to -- but few would want to pay for water dressed up as beer, or to be teased by their friends for doing so. It's a bit like buying horse meat dressed up as beef burgers."Anheuser-Busch employs some of most sophisticated process control technology in the world to precisely monitor the alcohol content at the final stages of production, and then adds additional water to produce beers with significantly lower alcohol contents than is represented on the the labels".... Peter Kraemer, vice president of brewing and supply at Anheuser-Busch said in a statement, "We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beer.""
Part of the problem here is that changes in production techniques can be viewed as changes in the product itself. The IPKat thinks it's probably prudent for consumer brand owners to nip even the prospect of such rumours in the Bud (sic) by proactively furnishing as much information as can be safely done without disclosure of technical know-how and commercially sensitive information.
Merpel notes that product shrinkages in the chocolate industry attracted widespread press coverage at the time but didn't seem to damage the brand image of CADBURY and other brands (see here and here). This is not quite the same as watery beer, though. A smaller piece of chocolate is still the same product, with the brand guaranteeing the same buzz. Watery beer is a different product, a horse of another colour.
One final point -- and it's a legal one. To this Kat's knowledge there have yet to be any class actions brought in Europe by consumers against brand owners in similar situations. He imagines that, while in theory class actions are encouraged in some EU countries and the Commission has taken an interest in them, it would be very difficult for such an action to be put together in Europe, let alone succeed. He invites readers to share their thoughts on this issue.