US: Beer wholesaler hits InBev with lawsuit
InBev is facing a legal battle with a small US wholesaler that claims the Belgium-based brewing giant has breached a distribution deal in Pennsylvania.
Shangy's, based in the town of Emmaus, 45 miles north-west of Philadelphia, purports to have the largest selection of beer in the US, selling over 3,000 domestic and imported brands.
The retailer and wholesaler has filed a lawsuit against InBev USA for violating a 1998 agreement between Labatt USA and Shangy's that gave the family-owned company exclusive distribution rights in 17 Pennsylvania counties. Labatt became a full InBev subsidiary in 2004.
Shangy's claims InBev is using another local wholesaler to handle its Stella Artois brand, which, the company argues, it should distribute exclusively.
Shangy's general manager Nima Hadian said InBev was trying to cut out the wholesaler and use one larger distributor to handle its entire portfolio in Pennsylvania.
Hadian argued that such a move would see Shangy's lose the rights to the Hoegaarden brand, which he said the wholesaler had built from "nothing" eight years ago to around 30,000 cases today.
Hadian said Shangy's was "consistently the number one or number two wholesaler" for Hoegaarden and stablemate Leffe in the US. He claimed Shangy's had asked when it was going to get the chance to sell more InBev brands but said InBev had given the rights to Stella Artois to a local, larger Coors Brewing Co. wholesaler.
"We asked when we were going to get brands including Stella and Brahma but they ignored us - they've been playing games with us the whole time," Hadian told just-drinks from Emmaus today (14 August).
Hadian said it had performed "above and beyond the call of duty" in building the Hoegaarden and Leffe brands but said InBev had begun placing "pressure" on Shangy's to give up the rights to the brand.
"There's comes a time when you've got to stand up for your rights. There is an agreement and (InBev) is not obeying that agreement. InBev has told us verbatim - this is not about Shangy's, this is about consolidation."
Hadian said Shangy's had spent "so much time" promoting the Hoegaarden brand and it had had grown to become the retailer's top seller.
He added: "We're specialty beer guys, we hand-sell beers. People think we're crazy because we're so passionate about beer. With the bigger guys, it's not about knowledge and service, it's about how many boxes you can put on a truck."
InBey USA refused to discuss the situation. "We do not comment on issues surrounding litigation," a spokesperson said.
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