Beer Drinkers Sue to Stop AB InBev's $110 Billion SABMiller Deal

  • Say combining two biggest brewers would create monopoly
  • Consumers can expect higher prices and bad beer, they say

Beer drinkers sued to block Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s $110 billion SABMiller Plc takeover, saying the deal would force them to pay more for lower quality.

The acquisition by the world’s largest brewer of the second biggest would create a monopoly in the beer market in violation of U.S. antitrust law, the beer drinkers contend.

Brewers of mass-market beer are trying to cut production and distribution costs as they lose sales to smaller independent brands in Europe and North America. Carlsberg A/S, the world’s fourth-largest brewer, announced this month that it would eliminate 2,000 jobs.

The AB InBev lawsuit by San Francisco lawyer Joseph Alioto on behalf of 23 consumers was filed Tuesday in federal court in Oregon. The drinkers, who said they have bought products made by either or both companies, as well as craft beers, seek to permanently bar the sale.

Anheuser-Busch’s Response

AB InBev believes the lawsuit claims are without merit and intends to vigorously defend against them, said John Blood, vice president of legal and corporate affairs.

“The U.S. beer market has never been more competitive, with strong growth from craft brewers, and nothing in this transaction will change that fact,” Blood said in a statement Thursday.

George Hudson, a spokesman for SABMiller, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

AB InBev’s beers include Budweiser, Michelob and Rolling Rock. SABMiller’s beers include Fosters, Miller and Grolsch. The two companies control about half the industry’s profit.

Alioto in June 2013 lost a bid to block AB InBev’s $20 billion acquisition of Grupo Modelo SAB over similar claims. Before that, Alioto sued unsuccessfully in an effort to stop InBev’s 2008 acquisition of Anheuser-Busch Cos.

In October, AB InBev announced plans to sell bonds worth as much as $55 billion to finance the takeover, setting a record for debt issuance to fund a corporate acquisition, according to people familiar with the matter. The brewer said in November that it obtained a total of $75 billion in loans.

AB InBev has reached a $12 billion side deal to sell SABMiller’s stake in a joint venture with Molson Coors Brewing Co. in an attempt to resolve antitrust concerns in the U.S.

The case is Dehoog v. Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, 15-cv-02250, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Medford).

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