ATLANTA (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch Cos BUD.N will stop selling energy drinks that contain alcohol in the United States under an agreement with 11 state attorneys general who had alleged that the brewer was marketing the products to underage drinkers.
The St. Louis company said on Thursday it has stopped producing caffeinated versions of its Bud Extra and Tilt malt beverage products, and was reformulating them to remove caffeine and guarana, another stimulant.
“We have determined that competing in the prepackaged caffeinated alcohol beverage sector may detract from our reputation as the global industry leader in promoting responsibility among adults who drink and discouraging underage drinking,” Francine Katz, vice president of communications and consumer affairs for Anheuser, said in a statement.
Attorneys general from the states -- Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and New York -- praised Anheuser-Busch and called on other makers of alcoholic energy drinks to halt their sale and marketing.
The attorneys general said they were investigating as many as 15 other companies that make similar drinks.
Anheuser-Busch controls nearly half the U.S. beer market with brands like Budweiser.
The attorneys general said their investigation, which began more than a year ago, showed Anheuser-Busch made false and misleading statements about the health effects of Tilt and Bud Extra, and that ads were aimed at consumers under the age of 21.
“We were concerned that these beverages were being aggressively marketed over the Internet with a strong focus on college populations,” Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said during a conference call.
The state officials said the alcoholic energy drinks were marketed with promotional giveaways for things like free music downloads.
“The nature and tenor and content of the ads was clearly targeting underage drinkers as well as others,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said.
The settlement revives a controversy that fueled Anheuser’s decision last year to pull its Spykes drinks from the market after advocacy groups and others accused the company of targeting underage drinkers.
As part of the settlement, Anheuser-Busch will also pay $200,000 to participating states.
Anheuser and Miller Brewing Co, which is part of SABMiller PLC SAB.L, had said in February that they had received demands from several state attorneys general about how they market and sell caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
Anheuser, which has received a $46.3 billion takeover offer from InBev NV INTB.BR, said in its statement that although both Tilt and Bud Extra had met regulatory requirements and received necessary state and federal agency approvals, it would reformulate them in response to the concerns of the attorneys general.
The brewer added that it may take several weeks for the caffeinated versions of Bud Extra and Tilt to sell out.
Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.
Sign up for a free trial of our full service at https://www.breakingviews.com/trial and follow us on Twitter @Breakingviews and at www.breakingviews.com. All opinions expressed are those of the authors.