Beer Drinkers Take Shot at Anheuser-Busch InBev Merger With SABMiller

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A bartender drafts a glass of beer at a brewery in Plzen, Czech Republic, on November 12. David W. Cerny/Reuters

A group of beer drinkers is trying to block Anheuser-Busch InBev from buying SABMiller, a merger that would combine the two largest brewers in the world.

The 23 drinkers this week filed a lawsuit against ABI, the world's largest brewer, over its $105 billion-plus deal to acquire SABMiller. The companies are working out the details of the deal, reached last month. The eventual acquisition, set to be one of the biggest mergers in corporate history, would bring together companies that produced more than 70 percent of all beer sold in the United States in 2014. They ultimately are expected to control about a third of global beer production.

The consumers—19 from Oregon, three from California and one from Washington—argue in the lawsuit that the merger would result in higher prices, lower-quality beer and erosion of consumer choice, as well as creating a beer market monopoly in violation of U.S. antistrust law.

They have no clear connection to the beer industry and aren't seeking money, but merely want to "permanently prohibit the proposed acquisition by ABI," according to the lawsuit. All of the plaintiffs said they have bought products made by one or both companies, in addition to small craft beers.

The plaintiffs said ABI makes more than $100 billion each year in Oregon, where the lawsuit was filed in federal court. They argue the state is one of the largest craft beer producers in the world and will be "significantly impacted" by the merger.

As part of the deal, ABI won't own SABMiller's U.S. business, as plans call for it to sell its rival's MillerCoors division and the Miller Global Brand Business to Molson Coors.

ABI responded to the lawsuit, saying the claims "are without merit."

"We intend to vigorously defend against them. 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," John Blood, vice president of legal and corporate affairs for ABI, said in a statement.

Instead, he added, the deal provides an opportunity to extend his company's reach to markets outside of the U.S.

SABMiller did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

As Bloomberg pointed out, San Francisco lawyer Joseph Alioto, who filed the lawsuit, lost a bid in 2013 to block ABI's $20 billion acquisition of Grupo Modelo SAB over similar claims. Five years earlier, he had sued to stop InBev's acquisition of Anheuser-Busch, but failed.

ABI is the maker of America's best-selling beer, Budweiser, as well as Stella Artois and Corona. London-based SABMiller makes Miller, Coors and Blue Moon.

The deal is expected to close later next year.