Beer Drinkers Lose US Appeal Over Anheuser-SABMiller Merger

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Beer Drinkers Lose US Appeal Over Anheuser-SABMiller Merger

A federal appeals court in the United States has rejected an antitrust challenge by 23 beer drinkers to Anheuser-Busch InBev SA's $107 billion purchase in 2016 of SABMiller Plc, which they claimed would thwart competition and raise prices in the US beer market.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon said SABMiller's agreement with antitrust regulators to divest its US beer business, by selling its stake in the MillerCoors joint venture to Molson Coors Brewing Co, would prevent increased concentration in the industry.

Speculative Claim

It also rejected as speculative the argument that the merger violated the federal Clayton Act because it gave Molson Coors an incentive to adopt Anheuser's distribution practices, to combat its rival's newly increased size.

That law requires consumers to properly allege that a merger "creates an appreciable danger or a reasonable probability of anticompetitive effects in the relevant market," Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote for a three-judge panel.

Anheuser-Busch InBev's brands include Budweiser and Bud Light, Beck's, Corona, Hoegaarden, Stella Artois, the craft beers Goose Island and Blue Point, and many others.


Appeals Court

Joseph Alioto, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview he would ask the panel or an 11-judge appeals court panel to revisit the case.

"The court overlooked the elephant in the room: that the 72% of the market that was occupied by ABI, SAB and Molson is now occupied by two," Alioto said. "Is the elimination of the second-largest brewer in the world from the US market a lessening of competition? I don't think there is any doubt."

A spokeswoman for Anheuser declined to comment.

The decision upheld an October 2016 ruling by US District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon.

News by Reuters, edited by ESM. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.

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