There is much hand-wringing about the proposed Belgian takeover of Anheuser-Busch. After all, Miller was bought out by South African Breweries – the company was called SABMiller — in 2002. Then Coors merged with Canadian beer giant Molson in 2005. Then SABMiller and MolsonCoors merged last year, taking the name MillerCoors. That left good old Anheuser-Busch to carry the American flag. Enter the sneaky Belgians. Overall, I’ve got nothing against the Belgians. They make great beers (hello, Chimay) and I’m sure they’re nice people. But now this:
Sept. 10 (Bloomberg) — InBev NV‘s planned $52 billion purchase of Anheuser-Busch Cos. would limit consumer choice and violate U.S. antitrust laws, 10 beer buyers said in a lawsuit against the two brewers.
The plaintiffs, who include bar and restaurant owners, today asked a federal judge in St. Louis to block the acquisition announced on July 14. They aren’t seeking money damages, their lawyer, Joseph M. Alioto, said in a telephone interview.
“If InBev is allowed to purchase Anheuser-Busch, there no longer would be any significant major potential competitor to influence pricing and marketing practices in the United States,” according to the complaint.
Anheuser-Busch accepted Leuven, Belgium-based InBev’s sweetened buyout offer after initially suing in the same court in June, calling the takeover bid illegal. InBev’s brands include Beck’s, Bass and Stella Artois. St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch makes Budweiser, Busch and Michelob.
“We believe that the claims alleged in the lawsuit are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend against them,” Anheuser-Busch Vice President Gary L. Rutledge today said in an e-mailed statement.
Robin Gillilandof New York’s Brunswick Group, an outside spokesman for InBev, declined to address the merits of the lawsuit.
“The InBev combination is in the best interest of all stakeholders including consumers,” Gilliland said in a phone interview. The companies remain committed to respecting Anheuser- Busch’s traditions and brands, he said.
The brewers plan to complete the deal by year’s end, creating a company called Anheuser-Busch InBev. That would leave two companies in control of at least 80 percent of the U.S. beer market following the merger of U.S. operations of SABMiller Plc and Molson Coors Brewing Co., Alioto said.
“The great American lager just went flat,” he said.
Anheuser-Busch controlled 49.4 percent of the U.S. beer market in 2006, according to data from Euromonitor International. InBev’s market share was 1.7 percent.
Anheuser-Busch rose 12 cents to $68.14 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have climbed 30 percent this year.
No telling how this mess is settled, but if it somehow brings down the price of a bottle of Chimay, cheers!