Anheuser-Busch’s (AB) packaging of its Ritas sparkling margarita, mojito, rosé, and sangria beverages has misled reasonable consumers into believing the drinks contain liquor or wine, a proposed class action claims.
Filed in New York federal court, the 34-page lawsuit alleges more specifically that Ritas sparkling margarita buyers have been misled by the beverage giant’s packaging into believing the product contains tequila. Ritas rosé and sangria buyers have similarly been duped by AB’s packaging into believing the products contain wine, the case claims, alleging those who’ve bought the defendant's mojito and sparkling classic cocktail varieties have also come to mistakenly believe the beverages contain rum based on their label representations, the complaint says.
“Defendant’s packaging of the Products is therefore false and misleading,” the plaintiffs contest, claiming neither they nor other consumers would have bought AB’s canned Ritas beverages, or would have paid less for the products, had they known of the absence of real liquor and wine.
The case aims to stop Anheuser-Busch from continuing its alleged practice of falsely, misleadingly and deceptively packaging its Ritas products in order to “correct the inaccurate perception it has created in the minds of consumers,” among other recourse. Additionally alleged in the complaint is that AB’s Ritas packaging violates federal regulations governing statements made on containers of malt beverages.
Per the lawsuit, it’s common knowledge that a margarita contains tequila. Given the dictionary definition of “margarita” and the International Bartenders Association’s recognition that the drink contains tequila—not to mention the image of a salted margarita glass on AB’s packaging—a reasonable consumer would expect a product with the word “margarita” on its package to contain tequila, the complaint relays.
Unbeknownst to consumers, however, AB’s Lime-a-Rita sparkling margarita contains no tequila, a fact disclosed nowhere on the front, sides or top panel of its packaging, the lawsuit says. Moreover, no mention is made by AB of the fact that its sparkling margarita drinks are, the case says, “actually just flavored beers that taste like a margarita.”
The disclosure revealing that Ritas margarita products are, in truth, a malt beverage with natural flavors and caramel color is found on the bottom panel of the package, “where no reasonable consumer would look prior to purchase,” the suit says, contending that the “malt beverage” label is, at any rate, a generally poor descriptor:
“In any event, to the extent seen on the underside packaging, reasonable consumers are unlikely to understand the foregoing ‘malt beverage’ statement as meaning that the Margarita Products do not contain tequila, particularly in the context of the other prominent, false and deceptive statements on the front packaging indicating that the products do contain tequila. As a result of the foregoing, no reasonable consumer would expect that the Margarita Products do not contain tequila.”
The plaintiffs present a similar case for Anheuser-Busch’s rosé and sangria spritz beverages. According to the lawsuit, it’s “common knowledge” that rosé is a type of wine, and that sangrias contain wine, and if a reasonable consumer were to order either at a bar they would expect to receive wine or a wine-based drink.
Further, the word “spritz” is well understood as a wine-based cocktail, the case adds, arguing that consumers’ beliefs about AB’s Ritas rosé and sangria beverages are reinforced given the products’ packaging includes images of wine glasses. Additionally, the suit says, AB’s commercials for its Ritas rosé and sangria show a woman standing in front of a wine cellar, holding a wine glass filled with one of the beverages and discussing “tasting notes,” i.e. elements of critique commonly associated with wine.
Consumers are unaware, however, that the products contain no wine, the lawsuit says, pointing again to the beverages’ packaging:
“Moreover, nowhere on the front, sides, or top panel of the packaging (the consumer facing panels) does Defendant state that the Wine Products do not have wine, or that the Wine Products are actually just flavored beers that taste like wine. Instead, the bottom panel of the packaging, where no reasonable consumer would look prior to purchase, contains a small font statement that the Wine Products are actually ‘Flavored Malt Beverage[s].’”
The complaint rounds out by alleging Anheuser-Busch has similarly misrepresented its Ritas “sparkling classic cocktails,” which come in strawberry and key lime mojito and passion fruit Cosmo varieties, as containing rum. According to the case, the defendant has misled reasonable consumers given the Ritas mojito and sparkling classic cocktail packaging—other than on the box’s bottom label, where it’s unlikely to be seen—makes no reference to the fact the products contain no rum and are, in truth, malt beverages.
Complicating matters for consumers is that Anheuser-Busch’s competitors in fact sell “margarita” beverages that contain actual tequila, the suit goes on, arguing that AB’s market competition proves consumers reasonably expect a product marketed as “margarita” to contain the liquor. In the same light, AB’s competitors also offer “mojito” drinks that contain real rum, the lawsuit points out, relaying the same for wine-containing beverages touted as “sangria” and “rosé.”
“The false belief created by Defendant’s Products’ packaging is a material factor in influencing consumer purchase decisions because it relates to the contents of the Products,” the plaintiffs assert. “To the detriment of consumers, Defendant’s packaging entices consumers to pay for what they believe are beverages containing tequila, rum, or wine, when they do not.”
The suit looks to cover anyone in New York who bought any of the aforementioned products for personal, family or household purposes within the applicable statute of limitations period.
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