Has Walmart been passing off crap beer as craft beer?
A class action lawsuit has been filed against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. by Matthew Adam of Ohio and others claiming that the “Trouble Brewing” label of beer being sold in more than 3,000 stores across America and in 45 states is “wholesale fiction” that in no way fits the standards of craft beer semantically.
You can read the entire filing here, but the most relevant accusation is this:
The plaintiff called Walmart’s “Trouble Brewing” label a “wholesale fiction” and “deceptive,” especially when packaged next to actual craft beer products. The plaintiff even used the words of a senior buyer from Walmart’s adult beverage team to its advantage.
“We were intentional about designing a package that conveyed the look and the feel you’d expect of craft beer,” Teresa Budd had said.
So if it looks like craft beer and feels like craft beer, must it be craft beer?
The plaintiff contends that “Trouble Brewing” — not an an actual brewery — does not fit the criteria of of craft beer defined by the Brewer’s association because the beer is produced by Genesee Brewing — not a craft brewer — in Rochester, N.Y., which is owned by Florida Ice and Farm Company in Costa Rica.
Genesee Brewing produces flagship items like the infamous party pooper Genesee Cream Ale — the furthest thing imaginable from craft beer besides malt liquor. Genesee produces malt liquor too.
The criteria are listed by the Brewers Association as “small, independent and traditional.”
The lawsuit also acts in defense of craft brewers, since it is alleging the Walmart is selling an inferior product packaged as “craft” presumably at a lower price by comparison to other craft items, but at a higher price than is deserved.
“Defendant stocks its craft beer next to other ‘craft beers’ for sale in its stores, rather than with other mass produced beers, such as Budweiser, Miller or Coors products,” the lawsuit says. “Again, by placing the craft beer on its shelves with other ‘craft beers,’ defendant is further perpetuating the myth that it’s a craft beer.”
The Washington Post’s unscientific taste-test of “Trouble Brewing” products seems to support the idea that there is no use of innovative brewing ingredients characteristic of a craft beer.
“Trouble Brewing’s After Party Ale was ‘bland nothingness’ and ‘lacking an identifiable taste,'” some said. “Trouble Brewing’s Red Flag Amber Ale was described as ‘flabby,’ ‘knock-you-over-the-head syrupy sweet’ and ‘good for flip cup.'”
There has been debate for some time over big companies like Walmart undercutting craft breweries under false pretenses.
Consider this portion of a Fort Collins Coloradoan article from 2013 headlined “What Qualifies As Craft Beer?”
As microbreweries continue to pop up across America and grow up with a Millennial following, macrobrewers have attempted to carve out a niche in the burgeoning market.
Just as some are taking issue with “Trouble Brewing” not being clearly labeled as a Walmart product or even a Genesee product, others criticized Blue Moon and Shock Top for not being clearly labeled as made by SABMiller or Anheuser-Busch.
Back then, the Brewers Association guarded against deceptive marketing designed to blur the lines between macro and micro.
“The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers,” the Brewers Association said at the time. “We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.”
Brewers Association craft beer program director Julia Herz said that the association doesn’t define “craft beer” but “craft brewer.”
While Matthew Adam et. al. do contend that Walmart’s “Trouble Brewing” is not craft beer per the Brewers Association, the case more generally takes issue with Genesee being styled as a “craft brewer.”