Massachusetts Claims Budweiser Gave Away $1 Million of Illegal Incentives

Budweiser is always clever when it comes to advertising. Their latest attempt, however, to draw in beer drinkers has Anheuser-Busch – part of beer goliath AB InBev finding itself in hot water. Massachusetts regulator, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, is charging Anheuser-Busch for illegally distributing $1 million worth of incentives to the Boston area.

The incentives, according to the Boston Globe, passed out to bars and retailers during a 14-month time span starting in 2014 was part of a promotional attempt to get customers to drink Budweiser products as opposed to their craft beer competitors. The charges claim it was done to stifle competition.

What you’re made of is also what you’re made to do. #ThisBudsForyou

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The charge by the ABCC comes backed by various complaints from other breweries that Anheuser-Busch is bribing customers as a response to smaller craft breweries taking a chunk of profits in the market. The whole pay-to-play concept Anheuser-Busch is under investigation for means that small breweries who can’t afford to pass out freebies are left fighting for taps and retail shelves.

Upon investigation, the ABCC has determined that Anheuser-Busch gave away over $900,000 worth of equipment to 441 retailers in the state of Massachusetts. The equipment included in the persuasive tactics ranged from refrigerators to draft towers – most of which cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.

The best bartenders don't take breaks. They take charge. #ThisBudsForYou

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Not only was the equipment provided free of charge, but they also included free delivery and installation. While that may sound like a nice “thank you” for carrying their product, it’s illegal in most states.

In Massachusetts where they are being charged, it’s most certainly illegal to provide bars or retailers anything of substantive value as it’s seen as a bribe or persuasive tactic to carry and promote that product above others. The recipients of the incentives were not charged by the ABCC.

The heavier the lift, the bigger the reward. #ThisBudsForYou

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For Anheuser-Busch, passing out $1 million in incentives may sound like a lot, but AB InBev is estimated to be responsible for 28 percent of beer sales worldwide.

With craft beer cutting in on their share, AB InBev has been known to use various tactics to try and maintain their share of the market. They have a reputation for shopping around and buying up smaller breweries, eliminating competition.

The most recent acquisition of Wicked Weed Brewing in North Carolina has craft beer enthusiast outraged. As more craft breweries are being bought, those still considered independent work even harder to get taps in bars and beers on shelves. The politics between big beer and craft is a constant battle being waged.

While AB InBev must seek approval before buying up craft breweries, it’s not illegal. The outcome of the case remains to be determined as hearings for the charges will be on June 20th.