Multinational retailer Walmart is in hot water this week thanks to a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company's craft beer offerings are not craft beer at all and actually amount to "wholesale fiction." The text of the suit brought by Matthew Adam of Cincinnati, Ohio, makes for fun reading (emphasis added):
"Through a fraudulent, unlawful, deceptive, and unfair course of conduct, [Walmart] manufactured, marketed, and/or sold its 'Cat's Away IPA,' 'After Party Pale Ale,' 'Round Midnight Belgian White,' and 'Red Flag Amber' Craft Beers to the residents of Ohio and 44 other states with the false representation that the Craft Beer is in fact a 'craft beer' when, in actuality, nothing about [Walmart] is 'small, traditional and independent' to qualify it as an American craft brewer per the Brewer's Association."
This isn't just a matter of calling Walmart -- a company that had a market value of about $250 billion in 2015 -- a large company though. The lawsuit calls out the beer itself, which is made with a company called Trouble Brewing, based in Upstate New York and owned by WX Brands. In actuality, Trouble Brewing's business address is the same as that of Genesee Brewery, which is known for its mass-production, college-favorite brews as much as it is for being a local staple in New York -- despite being owned by a Costa Rica-based company, Florida Ice and Farm.
The class-action suit alleges that the Walmart beers' packaging and placement on Walmart shelves alongside other craft beers amounts to "predatory conduct" that could entice consumers to pay more money for beer that doesn't rise to a "craft beer" standard. Because craft beer consumers demonstrate a willingness to pay, on average, $2 to $3 more per six-pack for craft beer than they would for a mass-produced beer, they claim it's unfair of Walmart to stock its shelves with these products.
Walmart has previously stated that there was no intention to deceive customers. "We were intentional about designing a package that conveyed a look and feel you’d expect of craft beer," Teresa Budd, who works on the company's adult beverages team, told the Washington Post.
The lawsuit comes in the midst of a trend of corporations capitalizing on the craft beer craze and a growing sense that an independently owned and operated, "craft" approach to a delicious drinking experience is getting harder and harder. Critics point to examples like Anheuser-Busch InBev altering Goose Island's recipe as evidence that these acquisitions do more harm than good.
In a statement, Ragan Dickens, director of national media relations at Walmart, told Thrillist: "We hold our suppliers to high standards and are committed to providing our customers the quality products they expect. While we have not yet been served with the complaint, we take this matter seriously and intend to defend ourselves against the allegations."
Genesse Brewery deferred requests for comment to WX Brands. An additional request for comment made to WX Brands was not immediately returned as of press time.
Here's what these allegedly fake Walmart craft brews look like, by the way: