Michael Hlinka: There's something skunky in the lime-beer battle
- September 3, 2009 9:03 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a business column from CBC radio.
By Michael Hlinka, CBC business columnist:
There’s a saying that the law should be used as a shield, not a sword. What that means in the context of business is that it’s legitimate for companies to use public institutions, like courts, to protect their interests. But the system shouldn’t be used to penalize competitors from doing what competitors should do … and that’s compete for business! And there’s something particularly troubling when it’s a huge multi-national picking on a tiny and struggling home-grown Canadian company, using our legal system to accomplish what it should be doing on the level playing field of the free market.
I’m getting ahead of myself. In May 2008, American-based brewer Anheuser Busch launched a new product, Bud Light Lime. Its Bud Light brand had been a market leader for years, and Anheuser Busch decided to lever that product’s success by extending the line. Bud Light Lime is Bud Light plus, in the words of the company’s marketing department, “a splash of 100% natural lime flavour”. It struck me at the time that what we were looking at was a twist on the lager-and-lime I occasionally enjoy in British-style pubs, or even Mexican beers with wedges of lime shoved in their long-necked bottles. There’s very little totally new under the sun.
Bud Light Lime was a roaring success in the American market, quickly carving out a 1 per cent market share. It was launched in Canada this year.
The Brick Brewing Company, based in Waterloo, Ont., noted the buzz and recently launched Red Baron Lime. It’s described by Brick Brewing as “an easy-drinking, refreshing light beer with just a splash of all-natural lime flavour.” Red Baron Lime is sold in clear glass bottles, as is Bud Light Lime. Both labels feature a silver and green - lime green for that matter - colour scheme, but what would you expect … purple?
The bottom line is that Anheuser-Busch InDev and its Canadian division, Labatt Brewing, is suing Brick Brewing for trademark and copyright infringement.
I’ve looked at both bottles on the respective company websites – I’d urge you to do the same. This is my opinion, of course, but it’s simply not reasonable to confuse one company’s offering for another.
What it looks like to me is that the Goliath – Anheuser-Busch has a 50 per cent market share in the United States of America – is using its deep pockets to push around David – Brick Brewing has a tiny 4 per cent market share in the province of Ontario. I wish there were a magic sling I could give the folks at Brick Brewing to defend themselves with.
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