In their letter to the FDA, CSPI and CFA said the claims by Molson Coors violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because they suggest Vizzy is a “healthful source of nutrients, obscuring the fact that alcoholic beverages provide empty calories, are associated with serious health conditions and can impair the body’s metabolism of nutrients.” The consumer groups urged FDA to “take immediate enforcement action” against Molson Coors from making such claims.
“Alcohol is never a good way to obtain nutrients,” CFA and CSPI wrote. “If these claims are not expressly prohibited, more manufacturers may attempt to market their alcoholic beverages as healthful sources of nutrients, misleading consumers about these drinks, which are not healthy.” CSPI noted this is the first time it has asked FDA to take action against such claims on an alcoholic beverage.
Marty Maloney, a Molson Coors’ spokesperson, said “while antioxidant Vitamin C is part of what makes Vizzy stand out, we have always been committed to communicating this product attribute responsibly.” The FDA said in an email to Food Dive that it “is reviewing the letter and will respond directly to the writers.”
As the popularity of hard seltzers grows, large beer companies have devoted more spending to increase production.
Molson Coors announced last December it was increasing production capacity for seltzers and popular innovations by more than 400%. The beer giant said sales of its Vizzy, Coors Seltzer, Blue Moon LightSky and other offerings continue to soar nationwide. Molson Coors is also the exclusive manufacturer, marketer and distributor of Coca-Cola’s Topo Chico Hard Seltzer in the U.S.
Anheuser-Busch, part of AB InBev, said in February it will spend more than $50 million this year on new seltzer brewing capabilities. It has already invested heavily in the segment, introducing Bud Light Seltzer, Natural Light Seltzer, cocktail-inspired hard seltzers and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer.
Evercore ISI reported in January that Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw and Boston Beer’s Truly collectively hold 75% of the market, according to Seeking Alpha. Bud Light Seltzer had 9.7% market share, with no other seltzer brand above 3%.
Molson Coors is no doubt angling to get a bigger slice of this market, especially as sales of its core beers continue to struggle. Having an offering that not only is a hard seltzer but also provides functional attributes will likely grab the interest of consumers looking for more than just sustenance or enjoyment in the products they eat and drink. According to a 2019 Kerry study, 65% of consumers seek functional benefits from their food and beverages. And Research and Markets estimated the global functional beverage market will be worth $158.3 billion in 2023.
With so many products lining shelves, having a trendy brand that cuts through the crowded space could mean millions of dollars in sales for Molson Coors. A few lawsuits filed in recent years are indicative of the money that is at stake. Future Proof Brands, parent company of Brizzy hard seltzer, accused Molson Coors of stealing the name of its product for Vizzy. And last month, AB InBev’s Mexican arm Grupo Modelo filed a lawsuit against Constellation Brands accusing the company of violating a brand licensing agreement when it launched Corona Hard Seltzer.
As CSPI and CFA noted in their letter, other hard seltzer makers are likely watching what happens with Molson Coors. If alcohol companies see making such claims is permissible and translates into sales, they will copy Molson Coors or find a way that is allowed by the FDA.