Anheuser-Busch InBev is upset again with Ohio lawmakers, saying a new brewery bill introduced this week could scuttle its plans to buy a wholesale distributorship in Lima.
State Reps. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, and Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown Township, introduced House Bill 174, which would prevent breweries from buying beer distributors in the state before a new law prohibiting such ownership takes effect.
House Bill 174 follows the passage last month of Senate Bill 48, which prohibits big brewers from owning or having a financial interest in distributors in Ohio. But the bill doesn't go into effect until the end of July. Buchy and Gerberry's legislation would prevent breweries from moving on deals before then. It includes an emergency clause and would take effect immediately if signed by the governor.
Since Senate Bill 48 was approved, Anheuser-Busch announced an agreement to buy C&G Distributing Co. Inc. in Lima. The brewery had protested the passage of Senate Bill 48.
Buchy's office said the intent isn't to stand in the way of that sale, but to promote competition within the beer industry. But Anheuser-Busch believes the legislation would impact the deal.
"As we work to promote business in Ohio, it is important to address looming issues that threaten the growth of industry," Buchy said in a prepared statement. "Ohio’s Legislature made its intentions clear with the unanimous passage and the signing into law of SB 48. House Bill 174 will stop manufacturers from using a loophole to gain a monopoly in the beer industry in Ohio.
"This bill will allow competition to drive the beer market and ensure consumers have access to the best products available. Monopoly-like actions threaten Ohio’s economic recovery and hinder entrepreneurship and job growth."
Anheuser-Busch, which operates a brewery in Columbus and already owns a distributor in Canton, issued a lengthy statement today (May 23) opposing the measure:
“Anheuser-Busch is strongly opposed to any bill that restricts the free market that has long existed in Ohio’s beer industry. Government interference in private business transactions would be contrary to the pro-growth environment that has made Ohio a great place to do business.
“In fact, we’ve owned a distributorship in Canton since 1994, serving more than 1,000 restaurants, bars, convenience and grocery stores throughout eastern Ohio. Between our distributorship and Columbus brewery, we employ nearly 800 Ohioans.
“We’re proud of our products, have invested significantly in them and have a strong interest in how they’re brought to market.
“There has been no showing, in legislative hearings or anywhere else, that there is some kind of problem in the beer industry in Ohio that requires intrusion by the Ohio General Assembly. We urge the legislature to reject anti-competitive public policy.”
Gary Guagenti of C&G Distributing also had sent a letter to House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, last week protesting the possibility that lawmakers would introduce legislation that would prevent the sale.
"Please understand that the decision to sell was made in the best interest of our families, our employees and our customers," he wrote. To read the full letter, click here.