Brick Brewery sued for lime beer

Brick Brewery’s recently launched lime-flavoured lager has led to a sour situation for the company.

Anheuser-Busch and Labatt Brewing, its Canadian division, have confronted Brick with a lawsuit based on claims of trademark infringement.

This summer’s lime craze inspired Brick Brewery to tap into the lime beer market with its new brew, Red Baron Lime, which appeared in beer stores last month. As the strong demand for Bud Light Lime proved too great for the supply, other brewers jumped at the opportunity to reap the benefits of lime mania.

Although other companies, such as Moosehead and Alberta’s Big Rock, are also producing lime lagers, Brick Brewery alone is currently facing Labatt’s legal action.

“We do not dispute their absolute right to offer a beer-lime product,” states Charlie Angelakos, Labatt Breweries vice-president of public affairs. “We do, however, intend to protect our investment in … trademarks and design.”

Anheuser-Busch contends that Brick’s marketing of Red Baron Lime violates Labatt copyrights through its similarity to Bud Light Lime. Both brews are bottled in clear glass and feature green and silver coloured labels with a lime graphic.

According to Angelakos, “Brick’s obvious intention is to trick consumers,” allegedly sowing confusion between Bud Light Lime and, what Angelakos refers to as the “inexpensively produced, small brewery replica.”

The campaign websites show some resemblance as well, with bright green colouring and links to Facebook pages. Both companies also feature youthful, swimsuit-clad models in their advertising, a marketing method that is the norm in the beer industry.

Sean Dennis, director of marketing for Brick Brewery, described the lawsuit as “the bigger brewery trying to bully the smaller brewery.” Through the channel of the Beer Store, according to Dennis, Anheuser-Busch and Labatt, subsidiaries of the foreign brewing giant AB In-Bev, control about 48 per cent of beer distribution, while Brick Brewery claims only 4 per cent.

Angelakos argues that size is not an issue. “A competitor is a competitor,” states Angelakos, “and we need to protect ourselves against unfair copycat marketing tactics.”

Dennis explains that prior to launching the Red Baron Lime brand, the company investigated a variety of other product lines.

“We, as a brewer, do diligence with regards to looking at the category,” states Dennis, noting that Brick analysed everything from soft drinks to beer, spirits, previous Brick products and other participants in the lime market when designing the product.

Dennis cites three main areas of focus –taste, availability and price – that were considered throughout product development. Brick established a high taste profile and commitment to remaining available to consumers, one-upping the competition’s tendency to be out-of-stock and hard-to-find.

Perhaps most important though is Brick’s pricing strategy which Dennis contends is a source of Labatt’s motivation for the lawsuit. While a six pack of Bud Light Lime retails at $13.50, Brick’s lime lager is available for $9.95, giving Red Baron Lime a considerable competitive advantage.
Red Baron Lime also benefits from the “buy local, support local” movement currently in vogue, as Brick Brewing Company is a 100 per cent Canadian business. Comments from irate consumers via various social media outlets including Facebook posts and blogs reveal considerable support on Brick’s behalf.

The ultimate outcome lies in court.

“Our tactic on this particular statement of claim,” explains Dennis, “[is] actively and aggressively defending it.”

The lime lager issue is not the first time a Labatt-Brick clash has resulted in legal action. A dispute between Labatt’s Brava and Brick’s Red Baron over similar concerns of brand resemblance was settled this past spring through Brick Breweries’ agreement to redesign the packaging and graphic branding of the Red Baron label.

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