Who owns Blue Moon? The owners face false branding accusations

Blue Moon

Blue Moon is one of the most successful beer brands in North America. It’s a Belgian-style wheat beer sold with an orange slice, which you would expect in a tequila sunrise, not a beer. Nevertheless, the creators insist it accentuates the barley, wheat, orange peel, oats, and coriander ingredients in the drink.

The orange slice may seem odd to some, but it’s crucial to the Blue Moon brand. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Blue Moon faced dwindling sales, with the parent company threatening to discontinue the brand. However, adding the orange wedge turned Blue Moon’s fortunes around.

If Your Time is short

  • Blue Moon’s creator Keith Villa introduced an orange slice to the beer to attract attention to the brand, boosting sales. 
  • Molson Coors took full ownership of Blue Moon after paying $12 billion to acquire SABMiller brands in North America. 
  • Molson Coors has denied accusations that it misrepresents Blue Moon as craft beer. 

Keith Villa created Blue Moon after acquiring his Doctorate in Belgium

Keith Villa
Keith Villa is the creator of Blue Moon | Photo by Matt Bloom/KUNC

Keith Villa was a homebrewer with dreams of becoming a pediatrician. After graduating from the University of Colorado with a degree in molecular biology, Keith planned to attend medical school. Before that, however, he applied for a job at Molson Coors as a researcher. 

“I thought I’d go talk to them. They called me the next day [and] said I was the most qualified,” Villa told Forbes. “I thought, ‘I’ll try going to Coors for a year and if I don’t like it I’ll go to medical school.’ But everything about working with beer was really a lot of fun.”

He spent several years at Coors before the company offered to pay for his Ph.D. studies in Belgium. Three years later, Keith returned with a doctorate in brewing. “I developed a lot of recipes and played with ingredients and made versions of a Belgian white,” Villa said. 

Keith’s bosses expected him to brew German-style beers, but he went the Belgian route. “Very few people had any clue what Belgian beer was but I knew one day Belgian beers would catch on in the States,” Villa said. 

As mentioned above, Blue Moon wasn’t an instant hit. Sales dwindled, but somehow, Villa convinced Coors to keep the brand alive. Everything changed when Villa introduced the orange slice in 2001. 

Coors says that the orange contributes to the beer’s taste, but Keith admitted he introduced the fruit to spark curiosity in drinkers. “I created the orange slice garnish to get people to look and say, ‘What’s that beer?’” Villa to Forbes. “That’s when our sales really started taking off.” 

In January 2018, Keith Miller retired from Coors, having spent 32 years at the company. He told Forbes he planned to build breweries ‘dedicated to the ultra high-end, and beers with exploratory, cutting edge ingredients.’

Molson Coors North America owns blue Moon after a demerger from SABMiller

Blue Moon was owned by Molson Coors until the company merged with SABMiller in 2008 to form MillerCoors. 

In 2015, SABMiller began merger discussions with Belgian multinational brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev. To prevent violation of antitrust laws, US authorities would only agree to the merger if SABMiller spun off Molson Coors. 

SABMiller agreed, selling its 58% stake in MillerCoors to Molson Coors for $12 billion. SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s merger made it the largest beer company in the world, producing over 25% of the world’s beer. 

Molson Coors Beverage Company

In early 2020, Molson Coors Brewing Company morphed into Molson Coors Beverage Company. The company ditched the MillerCoors brand name in a restructuring move that reorganized it into Molson Coors North America and Molson Coors Europe. 

Molson Coors faced accusations of misrepresenting Blue Moon as craft beer

Several years after the turn of the century, beer consumption in the United States gradually declined. However, craft beer sales were rising, prompting ‘Big Beer’ companies to misrepresent some of their brands as craft beers. 

Blue Moon packaging didn’t show its parent company; instead, it featured the fictitious Blue Moon Brewing Co. as the processor of the beer. Molson Coors wasn’t the only company that sneakily marketed its beer as craft, with Anheuser-Busch InBev also getting in on the act. 

Enraged, the Brewers Association, consisting of over 5,400 independent brewers, called out Molson Coors for unfairly encroaching on the craft beer market. The association declared that craft beer must fit within the following guidelines:

  • Brewed by a small and independent American craft brewer.
  • Have an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.
  • An alcoholic beverage brewer that isn’t a craft brewer mustn’t own 25% or more of the craft brewery. 

“Many non-standard, non-light ‘crafty’ beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries,” a statement from the association read. “So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer.”

The association called for Big Beer to stop the practice and foster transparency in brand ownership. It claimed that drinkers had the right to make an informed choice about the creators of the beer they chose. 

Graham Mackay, then of MillerCoors, told Fortune that a beer’s authenticity lies in its content and taste, not in its branding. He explained:

“There’s a huge debate in the craft world about us, all big brewers, because we’re like the enemy. We’re the other guys. They think we’re stealing their authenticity. What we say is, ‘Let the consumer decide.’ If we’re authentic enough for the consumer, that’s authentic enough for anyone.”

In 2015, a California man sued MillerCoors for attributing Blue Moon to a fake company and marketing it as craft beer. MillerCoors won the lawsuit by arguing there was no definition for ‘craft beer.’

The judge reasoned that despite MillerCoors’ failure to place its name on Blue Moon branding, it ‘had made no effort to hide the company’s ownership of the brand.’ Blue Moon was listed on the MillerCoors website as one of its brands and is currently listed on Molson Coors’ website. 

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