Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Anheuser-Busch InBev and Grupo Modelo in Beer Case

Divestitures of Piedras Negras Brewery, Perpetual Licenses to Modelo Beer Brands, and Other Assets Will Maintain Competition in the Beer Industry Nationwide

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement with Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV (ABI) and Grupo Modelo S.A.B. de C.V. that requires the companies to divest Modelo’s entire U.S. business – including licenses of Modelo brand beers, its most advanced brewery, Piedras Negras, its interest in Crown Imports LLC and other assets – to Constellation Brands Inc., in order to go forward with their merger.    The department said the proposed settlement will maintain competition in the beer industry nationwide, benefitting consumers.

Today’s proposed settlement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.    If approved by the court, the settlement will resolve the department’s competitive concerns.

On Jan. 31, 2013, the department filed an antitrust lawsuit against ABI and Modelo alleging that ABI’s $20.1 billion acquisition of the remaining interest in Modelo that ABI did not already own, as originally proposed, would substantially lessen competition in the market for beer in the United States as a whole and in at least 26 metropolitan areas across the United States.    The department alleged that the transaction would result in consumers paying more for beer and would limit innovation in the beer market.


“Before the merger, there were two competitors – Modelo and ABI – and ABI owned a substantial stake in Modelo.    The companies’ proposed merger would have reduced those two competitors to one – ABI.  The proposed settlement announced today will create an independent, fully integrated and economically viable competitor to ABI.    This is a win for the $80 billion U.S. beer market and consumers,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.    “If this settlement makes just a one percent difference in prices, U.S. consumers will save almost $1 billion a year.”

The settlement requires ABI and Modelo to divest Modelo’s entire U.S. business to Constellation or to an alternative purchaser if for some reason the transaction with Constellation cannot be completed.    Specifically, the settlement requires ABI and Modelo to divest:    the Piedras Negras brewery, Modelo’s newest, most technologically advanced brewery; perpetual and exclusive licenses of the Modelo brand beers for distribution and sale in the United States; Modelo’s current interest in Crown – the joint venture established by Modelo and Constellation to import, market and sell certain Modelo beers into the United States; and other assets, rights and interests necessary to ensure that Constellation is able to compete in the U.S. beer market using the Modelo brand beers, independent of a relationship to ABI and Modelo.


The licensed brands include all seven brands that Modelo currently offers (through its distributor, Crown) in the United States – Corona Extra, Corona Light, Modelo Especial, Negra Modelo, Modelo Light, Pacifico and Victoria – as well as three brands not yet offered in the United States, but currently sold by Modelo in Mexico – Pacifico Light, Barrilito and León.   The licenses include rights that will give Constellation the ability to adapt to changing market conditions in the United States.


Constellation has committed to expand the capacity of Piedras Negras in order to meet current and future demand for the Modelo brands in the United States, and that commitment is a condition of the proposed settlement.    The settlement also sets milestones for the expansion of the Piedras Negras brewery.    In order to enable Constellation to compete in the United States during the time it takes to expand the Piedras Negras brewery’s capacity to brew and bottle beer, the settlement requires ABI to enter into interim supply and transition services agreements with Constellation.   These agreements are time-limited to ensure that Constellation will become a fully independent competitor to ABI as soon as practicable.


ABI and Modelo originally proposed selling Modelo’s stake in Crown to Constellation and entering into a 10-year supply agreement to provide Modelo beer to Constellation to import into the United States.    The department rejected that purported fix because it would have eliminated the Modelo brands as an independent competitive force in the United States beer market.    Unlike the companies’ original proposal, which left Constellation with no brewing assets and beholden to ABI for the supply of beer, the proposed settlement ensures that Constellation, or an alternative purchaser, will have independent brewing assets and the ownership of the Modelo beer brands for sale in the United States in perpetuity.    As a result, Constellation will fully replace Modelo as a competitor in the United States.


ABI is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Belgium, with headquarters in Leuven, Belgium.    ABI brews and markets more beer sold in the United States than any other firm, with a 39 percent market share nationally.    ABI owns and operates 125 breweries worldwide, including 12 in the United States.    It owns more than 200 different beer brands, including Bud Light – the best-selling brand in the United States – and other popular brands such as Budweiser, Busch, Michelob, Natural Light, Stella Artois, Goose Island and Beck’s.


Modelo is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Mexico, with headquarters in Mexico City.    Modelo is the third-largest brewer of beer sold in the United States, with a seven percent market share nationally.    Modelo owns Corona Extra–the top-selling beer imported into the United States.    Its other popular brands sold in the United States include Corona Light, Modelo Especial, Negra Modelo, Victoria and Pacifico.    Crown imports, markets and sells Modelo’s brands into the United States.    ABI currently holds a 35.3 percent direct interest in Modelo and a 23.3 percent direct interest in Modelo’s operating subsidiary Diblo.


Constellation, headquartered in Victor, N.Y, is a beer, wine and spirits company with a portfolio of more than 100 products, including Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Ruffino and SVEDKA Vodka.    It produces wine and distilled spirits, with more than 40 facilities worldwide.

The proposed settlement, along with the department’s competitive impact statement, will be published in the Federal Register, consistent with the requirements of the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act.   Any person may submit written comments concerning the proposed settlement within 60 days of its publication to James Tierney, Chief, Networks and Technology Enforcement Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 7100, Washington, D.C. 20530.   The comments will be published in the Federal Register.   At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the court may enter the final judgment upon a finding that it serves the public interest.

***Antitrust Monitor (2 of 2)*** Informal Blog Post by Robert Zastrow regarding Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Proposed Acquisition of Grupo Modelo

Today’s Wall Street Journal article regarding Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Proposed Acquisition of Grupo Modelo ( US Fights AB InBev With Tested Game Plan by Brent Kendall), brought back memories of my life before Verizon when I was general counsel to the New York State Beer Wholesalers’ Association and prosecuting attorney in connection with the Heileman Schlitz merger.
I commend Mr. Kendall’s article, which emphasizes the degree to which DOJ now relies on “hot documents” in merger cases.  In this particular case, DOJ cites emails in which AB executives worried about pricing pressure from Modelo.  The key issue is likely to be whether Modelo was a cause for particular concern, or whether other premium brands, e.g. Heineken, posed similar issues, not because the premium brands were sold at the same price as Bud, but because if the gap between Bud and Modelo narrowed, customers would trade up.  Presumably, this would not include construction workers such as my wife’s crew chief, who had a large Bud tattoo on his right arm!
This article underscores the importance of early attorney involvement in merger planning.  How easier it would have been for AB had the lawyers emphasized the importance of documents to the marketing and sales staffs.  And, even if the company seeks counsel later, it is never a bad idea for counsel to get the files from a small number of marketing and sales executives to see what they say about the target.   Acquirers can pay premiums reaching the billions if a merger does not consummate, and an early assessment of the risk caused by bad documents is essential.
I vividly recall sitting on a panel in the mid 90’s with a former AAG, who shall go nameless.  He assured the audience that corporate counsel would soon develop procedures for monitoring emails and insuring that incriminating statements were not recorded.  The Bar did not realize then how ubiquitous electronic communications would become — there was barely an Internet then — and how difficult it would be to monitor hundreds of executives who were generating content at their computers all day.

Justice Department Files Antitrust Suit Lawsuit Challenging Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Proposed Acquisition of Grupo Modelo

Merger Would Result in U.S. Consumers Paying More for Beer, Less Innovation; Lawsuit Seeks to Maintain Competition in the Beer Industry Nationwide

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit today challenging Anheuser-Busch InBev’s (ABI) proposed acquisition of total ownership and control of Grupo Modelo. The department said that the $20.1 billion transaction would substantially lessen competition in the market for beer in the United States as a whole and in 26 metropolitan areas across the United States, resulting in consumers paying more for beer and having fewer new products from which to choose.

Americans spent at least $80 billion on beer last year. According to the department, ABI’s Bud Light is the best selling beer in the United States and Modelo’s Corona Extra is the best-selling import. Because of the size of the beer market in the United States, even a small increase in the price of beer could result in billions of dollars of harm to American consumers, the department said.

The department’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to prevent the companies from merging and to preserve the existing head-to-head competition between the firms that the transaction would eliminate.

“The department is taking this action to stop a merger between major beer brewers because it would result in less competition and higher beer prices for American consumers,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “If ABI fully owned and controlled Modelo, ABI would be able to increase beer prices to American consumers. This lawsuit seeks to prevent ABI from eliminating Modelo as an important competitive force in the beer industry.”

ABI and Modelo–the largest and third largest beer firms, respectively–together control about 46 percent of annual sales in the United States. MillerCoors, the second largest beer firm, accounts for about 29 percent of nationwide sales. Beer is generally grouped into four distinct segments by industry participants–sub-premium, premium, premium plus and high-end. The sub-premium segment includes: Busch (owned by ABI); and Keystone (owned by MillerCoors). The premium segment includes: Bud Light; Coors Light; and MillerLite. The premium plus segment includes: Michelob (owned by ABI); and Modelo Especial (owned by Modelo). The high-end segment includes: imports such as Corona (owned by Modelo) and Heineken; and a variety of craft beers.

According to the department’s complaint, the U.S. beer market is already highly concentrated, and prices are increased by strategic interactions among the largest brewers, including ABI and MillerCoors. ABI generally acts as the price leader, implementing annual price increases in the sub-premium, premium and premium plus segments of the U.S. beer industry. MillerCoors and other brewers have typically joined the ABI price increases, while Modelo has not. By pricing aggressively, Modelo–through its importer, Crown Imports–puts pressure on ABI to maintain or lower prices, especially in certain parts of the country. As a result, Modelo has become a particularly important competitor in the U.S. market.

The complaint quotes internal company documents demonstrating both ABI’s determination to maintain its upward price leadership in the U.S. beer industry and Modelo’s present-day position as a significant competitive threat to ABI:


    • ABI has implemented a “conduct plan,” whereby ABI hopes to establish “the highest level of [price] followership” by its large rivals by being as “consistent,” “simple” and “transparent” as possible;



    • ABI believes that its conduct plan provides the highest possibility of “sustaining a price increase” and “ensuring competition does not believe they can take share through pricing”;



    • By contrast, Modelo’s pricing strategy in the United States is known as the “momentum plan” and aims to narrow the “price gap” between Modelo’s imports and domestic premium beers, such as ABI’s Bud Light, stealing market share from ABI by enticing consumers to “trade up” to Modelo beer; and



    • ABI executives acknowledge that Modelo has “put increasing pressure” on ABI competitively, and that Modelo’s strategy is at odds with ABI’s well-established practice of leading prices upward with the expectation that its competitors will follow.


The complaint also discusses ABI’s efforts to target Corona. ABI considered Corona to be a significant threat, and launched Bud Light Lime in 2008 to compete with Corona. ABI went as far as to mimic Corona’s distinctive clear bottle.  Ultimately, instead of trying to compete head-to-head with its own product, Bud Light Lime, ABI is thwarting competition by buying Modelo.

The department alleges that ABI’s acquisition of total ownership and control of Modelo would eliminate the existing competition between ABI and Modelo, further concentrating the beer industry, enhancing ABI’s market power and facilitating coordinated pricing between ABI and the remaining large players. Consumers would, as a result, see higher prices and less innovation.

The department’s complaint also alleges that ABI and Modelo efforts to remedy the anticompetitive aspects of their transaction are inadequate. The complaint states that ABI has agreed to sell Modelo’s existing 50 percent interest in Crown to its Crown joint venture partner, Constellation. ABI would also enter into an exclusive agreement to supply Constellation with Modelo beer to import into the United States, although ABI can terminate this supply agreement after 10 years and would retain the Modelo brands and its brewing and bottling facilities.

“The companies’ attempt to fix this anticompetitive deal through the sale of Modelo’s existing interest in Crown and a temporary supply agreement is not sufficient to prevent consumer harm from ABI’s acquisition of its competitor, Modelo,” said Baer.

The complaint states that the combined effect of the proposed acquisition of Modelo and the proposed fix is to eliminate from the marketplace a sophisticated brewing firm with a long history of success and replace it with an importer which will own no brands or brewing facilities and be totally dependent on ABI for its supply of Corona and other Modelo brands.  The documents in the case show that as Crown’s CEO wrote to his employees after the acquisition was announced: “our #1 competitor will now be our supplier…it is not currently or will not, going forward, be ‘business as usual.’” The department’s complaint said that not only will competition be harmed by the loss of Modelo as a competitor, but by removing an independent brewer–Modelo–from the market, strategically coordinated pricing will become easier in the future.

ABI is a Belgian corporation with its principal place of business in Leuven, Belgium.  In 2011, ABI had revenues of approximately $39 billion. ABI currently has a 43 percent voting interest and a 50.35 percent economic interest in Modelo. ABI has stated in its annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it does not have voting or other effective control of Modelo. Through the proposed acquisition, ABI would acquire control of, and the remaining economic interest in Modelo.

Modelo is a Mexican corporation with its principal place of business in Mexico City.  In 2011, Modelo had revenues of approximately $7 billion.