Michelob ULTRA Hard Seltzer

February 22nd, 2021

 

Editor’s Note: An update and a correction have been posted at the end of this article.

English teachers across the country can rejoice: Grammar is as important as they say it is!

A federal court has ordered Anheuser-Busch to temporarily stop advertising its Michelob ULTRA Hard Seltzer as “the only” or “the first” “national USDA certified organic hard seltzer” after finding the language to be “false and deceptive.”

The language in question was featured in a commercial that aired during the NFL playoffs (and a January press release from Anheuser-Busch) and caught the eye of the owners of the Oregon-based Suzie’s Brewery. Last June, Suzie’s received its national organic certification from the USDA for its hard seltzer, which hit liquor store shelves a month later.

In comparison, Michelob ULTRA Hard Seltzer only became available in January after receiving its organic certification in August – two months after Suzie’s.

Anheuser-Busch argued in its defense that the dispute was merely an issue of grammar – that the phrase “Michelob ULTRA Organic Hard Seltzer is the only (or the first) ‘national USDA certified organic seltzer’” simply means that “it is the only (or the first) USDA certified organic seltzer that is nationally distributed.” (Suzie’s only sells its organic hard seltzer in six states.)

You might be rolling your eyes, but Strunk & White are rolling in their graves.

The court rejected Anheuser-Busch’s assessment, determining that the beverage giant’s proposed reading of the language was not reasonable.

The word ‘national’ is an integral – and oft-repeated – part of the USDA’s national organic certification program … One of the main purposes of that National Organic Program was to create a national, unified standard for organic labelling, designation, and advertising.

Further, the court reasoned that “the word ‘national’ appears immediately before the words ‘USDA organic certified hard seltzer’ and there are no commas separating the adjectives modifying ‘seltzer.’”

All this grammar talk led the court to issue a temporary restraining order that prevents Anheuser-Busch from using the disputed language. The order will remain in place for 28 days, while a longer-term solution is determined.

An Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said:

The truth matters. Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer is the first USDA Certified Organic hard seltzer distributed nationally. The Court’s Order allows us to continue making this true statement.

This isn’t Anheuser-Busch’s first time in the hot seat.

In 2019, a federal court ordered the company to stop suggesting, as it did in its Super Bowl ads two years ago, that products from competitor MillerCoors (namely, Miller Lite and Coors Light) contain corn syrup. More recently, a class-action lawsuit alleges the company’s Beck’s Non-Alcoholic Beer does in fact contain “detectable amounts of alcohol.”

To read more of TINA.org’s coverage of alcohol, click here.

UPDATE 2/25/21: This article has been updated to include a statement from an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson.

CORRECTION 2/25/21: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Anheuser-Busch pulled its Super Bowl ad this year due to the court’s ruling.

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