Craft Brew Alliance Sued Over Kona’s Mainland Origin

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Two California beer drinkers are suing Craft Brew Alliance, alleging the company has willfully deceived consumers into believing its Kona brand is brewed in Hawaii, despite being manufactured primarily on the mainland. According to Reuters, the plaintiffs allege nothing on the packaging makes clear where the product is brewed, but prominently features imagery and names associated with Hawaii.

“Consumers purchase items, and are willing to pay more for items because they are from Hawaii,” per the complaint. “Craft Brew is well aware of this.”

While Kona does operate a brewery in Hawaii, the majority of Kona beer available on the mainland is brewed in Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, and New Hampshire. This is primarily for logistical reasons, as the company is able to more efficiently serve the vast majority U.S. markets by bringing production inland.

WHY IT MATTERS
The company said it couldn’t discuss pending litigation, but this is hardly the first time Kona’s origin has come up in similar discussions. The most public shot at the company likely came from Garrett Marrero, founder of Maui Brewing, during a 2011 interview with The Full Pint:

“It’s disconcerting to say the least how acceptably deceitful the Kona labels on packaged product are. To me, and most of the world, local means made in the local area where the marketing makes it appear to be,” he said at the time. “It’s more about truth in labeling and origin. At least give the consumer the info and tell them on the package where its actually made rather than let them think its from here.”

For its part, Kona’s website discloses that much of its beer is, in fact, produced on the mainland, “under strict guidance” and “dictated” by Kona’s brewmaster. No less, there is precedent that might make Kona feel uneasy. In 2013, a lawsuit claimed Beck’s was willfully marketed as being brewed in Germany, despite being brewed in St. Louis. Two years later, a judge approved a $20 million settlement and the company began offering refunds valued at up to $50 per household.

Either way, this is the latest in a slate of lawsuits levied against brewers alleging deceptive marketing practices. As we reported last month, Walmart is currently being sued over its house line of beer, while back in 2015, MillerCoors was sued over misrepresenting Blue Moon as an independent brand. CBA is certainly hoping this case will get the same dismissal enjoyed by MillerCoors.

But one thing is clear: beer is only getting blurrier. Ownership is only becoming more convoluted. And companies are increasingly setting up operations in other states, and hell, even other countries. Which begs the question that has been on the tip of many tongues for quite a while: what, exactly, does local even mean these days?

—Dave Eisenberg

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Kona beer is not from Hawaii, consumers say in lawsuit [Reuters]