Last Call: Molson Coors Sued Over Vizzy Seltzer Name; Coronavirus Affects Beer Sales and Production in China

Future Proof Sues Molson Coors for Trademark Infringement

The parent company of Brizzy Seltzer Cocktails has filed a lawsuit against Molson Coors Beverage Company in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleging that the second largest U.S. beer manufacturer’s Vizzy Hard Seltzer name “is nearly identical to Brizzy in sight, sound and appearance” and infringes upon its trademark.

Austin, Texas-based Future Proof, which makes Brizzy, is seeking a jury trial, and asking the court to stop Molson Coors from using the Vizzy trademark to sell, market and distribute alcoholic beverages. The company is also seeking three times the damages outlined in the complaint plus court costs and legal fees.

Future Proof filed a trademark application for Brizzy on November, 30 2018. Brizzy launched in September 2019 in three flavors: Watermelon Mule, Mixed Berry Mojito and Strawberry Rose. Within 90 days of its release, Brizzy gained placements in more than 1,000 retail locations in four states: Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Michigan. Future Proof has sold more than 10,000 cases since Brizzy’s launch.

Molson Coors plans to release Vizzy in late March. The company touts it as “the first hard seltzer made with acerola cherry, the super fruit high in the antioxidant vitamin C,” according to its Behind the Beer blog. Vizzy was first announced during the company’s Q3 2019 earnings call.

The lawsuit alleges that Molson Coors executives were aware of Brizzy’s name and branding and proceeded with Vizzy despite the similarities.

“MillerCoors’s deliberate infringement is likely to succeed in causing consumer confusion,” according to the court documents, which refer to Molson Coors as MillerCoors, the former name of the company’s U.S. business unit. “Not only is MillerCoors’s Vizzy mark substantially identical to Future Proof’s Brizzy mark, but MillerCoors intends its hard seltzer products to compete head-to-head with Future Proof’s Brizzy hard seltzer products in store aisles, bars and in restaurants.”

In a statement, Molson Coors said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “published the Vizzy trademark application after reviewing the registered trademarks, including the ones owned by Future Proof.

“Plus, Vizzy’s packaging is markedly different and offers unique ingredients,” the company continued. “We don’t believe consumers will be confused. Distributors and retailers alike are thrilled about getting Vizzy on shelves this spring, as we all believe that the brand has strong potential to be a meaningful player in the hard seltzer segment.”

Coronavirus Affects Beer Sales and Production in China

Bars, restaurants and nightclubs across China are shutting down amid panic over the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 30,000 people worldwide and resulted in more than 600 deaths, according to the Associated Press.

The closures are resulting in decreased beer sales and other disruptions to the global beer industry, according to Fortune. Anheuser-Busch InBev suspended operations at its brewery in Wuhan, the province where the outbreak began.

Danish brewer Carlsberg has reported that its on-premise sales in China have been “significantly impacted,” according to Fortune. Dutch brewer Heineken announced it was restricting employee travel to China as a precaution, according to Just Drinks.

NBWA Beer Purchasers’ Index Expands in January

The National Beer Wholesalers Association’s (NBWA) Beer Purchasers’ Index — a survey of wholesalers’ purchasing behavior — expanded in January 2020.

According to the NBWA, January’s reading of 66 marked “the highest January reading ever posted during the six years of the survey.” The reading was up seven points from January 2019’s reading of 55. Recall that readings above 50 indicate segment expansion, while readings below 50 signal contraction.

What was driving the increased purchasing activity? Hard seltzer, of course. FMB/seltzer posted a reading of 91, up from a reading of 66 in January 2019. The only other segment to expand was imports, with a reading of 64.

All other segments contracted, including craft, with a reading of 45, which the trade group said “is starting the new year at a new low point.”

Sprecher Buyers Purchase Brewery Building, Additional Property for $3.2 Million

The Milwaukee group that acquired Wisconsin’s Sprecher Brewing Co. paid about $3.24 million for the brewery building and a neighboring property, Biz Times reported.

A week ago, a Milwaukee-based investor group led by Sharad Chadha acquired the 35-year-old company, which makes craft beer, hard seltzer, soda and sparkling water, from Randy Sprecher, who founded the brewery in 1985 and plans to retire, while maintaining a stake in the business as an investor.

Brooklyn Brewery Opens Tokyo Taproom

Brooklyn Brewery is continuing its international expansion, with the opening of B at K5, a tasting room in the Nihonbashi neighborhood of Tokyo, Japan.

The New York beer company called Tokyo its “first international market,” dating back to 1989 when Brooklyn Lager was imported into the city. The opening is just in time for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

International expansion is nothing new for Brooklyn, which operates several joint ventures around the globe. Brooklyn’s ties to Japan go even deeper; Japanese beer maker Kirin owns 24.5% of the company following a 2016 transaction.

Founders Reopens Detroit Taproom

Founders Brewing Company reopened its Detroit taproom on Thursday, after indefinitely shuttering the location last October amid backlash following the leak of a deposition in a now-settled racial discrimiantion lawsuit.

“After three months of progress behind-the-scenes, now is the best time to honor our commitments in Detroit and reopen the Detroit taproom,” co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens said in a press release. “While our intentions were good when we first launched the taproom in 2017, we need to make more efforts to connect in meaningful ways with the City of Detroit. We’re going to do this right and we look forward to sharing the journey with our fans, community partners and business partners.”

The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based craft brewery also announced that Emily Faulkner will serve as general manager of the taproom. Faulkner brings several years of managerial experience from working in Detroit’s hospitality industry, including serving as the operations manager of TopGolf in Auburn Hills and general manager of TAP in the MGM Grand Detroit.

Founders is also keeping its pledge to contribute the income from the taproom to local Detroit charities for the next three years. The company is also working with the City of Detroit and its Detroit At Work program to “hire more qualified Detroit residents.”

“We realize this goes beyond financial donations and we’re committed to becoming a more integral part of the Detroit community,” Founders co-founder and president Dave Engbers added in the release. “We’re not viewing the Detroit taproom as a profit center but instead as a hub for community engagement with the residents of the city. ”

SweetWater to Open Distillery

Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing Company plans to open a distillery at its Buckhead headquarters, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The Georgia craft brewery sought and received unanimous approval for the project from the Neighborhood Planning Unit-E board.

“We’re very much in an exploratory mode,” a Sweetwater spokesperson told the outlet. “Quality is the top priority for SweetWater, and as with everything we do, launching a spirits program would depend on us developing and delivering the highest quality product. We are in motion, but there’s no timeline at this point.”

SweetWater, which was founded in 1997 by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny, sold a minority stake to private equity firm TSG Consumer partners in September 2014.

A-B’s Labatt Acquires Banded Peak Brewing

Anheuser-Busch InBev subsidiary Labatt Breweries of Canada acquired Calgary craft brewery Banded Peak Brewing in late January, according to CBC News.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“When we started this four years ago, we had no idea that this was even a possibility,” Banded Peak co-founder Alex Horner told the outlet. “Right from the beginning, our goal has just been to make awesome craft beer and to share it with as many people as we can. This partnership is a huge opportunity for us.”

Banded Peak was founded by Horner, Matthew Berard and Colin McLean in 2016.

The acquisition came just days after Labatt acquired spirits and ready-to-drink canned cocktail maker Goodridge & Williams.

Boston Beer Strikes Truly Sponsorship with Florida Panthers

Truly Hard Seltzer maker the Boston Beer Company has struck a multi-year sponsorship deal with the NHL’s Florida Panthers to make the brand the “official hard seltzer” of the team.

In a press release, the club announced that Truly “can now be found in select clubs, concession areas and bars throughout the BB&T Center.”

Boston Beer inked a five-year deal in September making Truly the “official hard seltzer” of the National Hockey League.

Busch Family to Star in MTV Reality Show

A new MTV reality show, The Busch Family Brewed, will feature Billy Busch, the great-grandson of Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch, and his family.

The 10-episode series follows Busch, his wife Christi and their seven children around St. Louis. The show starts with a double episode on MTV on March 5.

Busch founded the Reinheitsgebot-adhering Kräftig lager brand in St. Louis brand in 2011 with visions of going national but ceased production in July 2019.

Watch the trailer for the show here.

CBA Shows Kona Brewery Build Progress

Craft Brew Alliance has released a video showing the construction progress at its $23 million, 35,000 sq. ft., 100,000-barrel Kona Brewery in Kailua-Kona.

Among the features of the forthcoming facility are water-saving technology, solar power and a high efficiency brewing system. The company said those innovations will help Kona increase production 10-fold while reducing the environmental impact of brewing beer on an island.

The brewery is slated to open later this year.

Watch the video here.

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