Bell’s Sues Distributor

Bell’s Brewery has filed a lawsuit in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court against its Lansing-based distributor, Classic Wines Ltd., seeking to stop the sale of distribution rights.

Classic Wines is trying to sell its distribution rights to M&M Distributors Inc., which is also an Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that M&M’s loyalties to A-B will not allow M&M to fairly promote and sell Bell’s brands. Bell’s, the largest beer producer in the state, refuses to consent to the proposal by Classic Wines to sell the distribution rights because it “does not meet the material and reasonable qualifications and standards required by Bell’s.”

The eight-page complaint addresses Anheuser-Busch’s control of the U.S. beer market and its efforts to “stifle competition” from other Big Beer companies and craft brewers.

Classic Wines is the fourth-largest distributor of Bell’s in the state, selling about 55,000 cases a year, Bell’s president Larry Bell said. Sixty-five percent of Classic Wines sales are of Bell’s brands, according to the lawsuit.

Bell’s pulled out of Chicago in December 2006, after a public dispute with its distributor, Indianapolis-based National Wine & Spirits Inc., which sold distribution rights to another distributor, Chicago Beverage Systems. Just last July, a new distributor for Bell’s was found, allowing the brand to be sold in Chicago for the first time in almost two years.