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Maris suit opens in FL; family seeks $2.5 billion.

The Maris lawsuit opened in the Eighth Circuit Court in Gainesville, FL, last week, as the Mans family seeks $2.5 billion in damages for breach of contract. Mans attorney Willie E. Gary contends that the termination of Maris as an A-B wholesaler was part of a plan by Anheuser-Busch to seize control of attractive distnibutorships for later sale to relatives or friends of the Busch family.

In court filings, Anheuser-Busch has denied these charges, reiterating its stand that the termination was due to fraudulent conduct by Mans in repackaging out-of-code beer. The company has also asserted that Mails failed to address sales and marketing shortcomings unearthed by A-B inspectors.

Some of the surveys seem to include fictitious information, Maris attorneys say. Several of the surveys were excerpted in the April 30th edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Key evidence in the case will include surveys of on-premise accounts conducted by AnheuserBusch inspectors during a crew drive. The Maris family has filed almost 100 affidavits regarding these surveys, in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the survey documents.

One survey was conducted at Hungry Howie's Pizza in Spring Hill, FL with a manager named "Howie." The restaurant is part of a national chain, using the cartoon character "Hungry Howie" as its logo. The owner of the franchise said that the restaurant had never actually employed someone named Howie.

Another survey, conducted at an outlet called the Yulee Cafe, represented a manager named "Rick" complaining that Mans reps never discussed bar promotion schemes with him as reps from other distributorships did. One problem: the owners of the Yulee Cafe say the place never had a bar, didn't sell beer, and never had an employee named "Rick."

Other key pieces of evidence will be internal A-B memos on the subject of wholesaler alignment." One memo outlines a five-step process for identifying underperforming wholesalers and strategies for influencing a sale. The memos discuss rating the wholesalers, using a scale from one to five, based on their likelihood of selling.

Parts of this memo were published in the Wall Street Journal. In one version of the memo, wholesalers rated one and two were called "tough", because of factors like "major ego" or "kids, nothing else to do." Fours and fives were called easy acquisitions, given "some pressure [and] some incentive money." Those rated three, or "on the fence" would require incentive or heavy crew pressure."

Anheuser had complained of deficiencies at Maris in 1995, although the Mans family claimed to hold 60% of the market share in the Gainesville and Ocala markets, relative to A-B's 45% national market share. In 1996, after a visit by an inspection team, A-B offered to buy the distributorship. Maris family members rejected that and one subsequent offer as too low. A second A-B evaluation team arrived in January 1997, and A-B terminated the Mans contract in March of that year.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 7, 2001
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