You can't wash down your freedom fries with a Belgian beer, says a committed group of American tipplers campaigning to keep Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser, from being taken over by Belgian beverage giant InBev.
On Wednesday, InBev, makers of Stella Artois and Becks, announced a $46 billion, $65-a-share bid for Anheuser-Busch, America's largest and perhaps most iconic brewery. The news has distressed Budweiser devotees who take pride in drinking the American-made beer, and some are even fighting back.
"Budweiser is as American as baseball," said Ed Martin, a lawyer from Anheuser-Busch's hometown of St. Louis. He so wants his Budweiser label to remain "red, white and blue" and out of the hands of the soccer-loving Belgians that he launched a Web site devoted to the cause, Saveab.com.
A petition on the site has garnered 11,449 signatures since rumors of a potential sale swirled a week ago. But that's a drop in the barrel compared to the 33,289 signatures linked from the similar Web site, Savebudweiser.com.
Wren Fowler, the Florida resident who started Savebudweiser.com, said she and her husband wanted to gather enough signatures that the company's board would think twice before selling.
"Thousands of people have signed our petition. We want to catch the attention of the board of directors to keep AB here and American-owned," she said.
Should the InBev deal go through, American barrooms, ballparks and barbecuers this summer will have to decide whether they want to continue supporting an American beer that is no longer American.
"Those of us who live in St. Louis know that Anheuser-Busch is a great company, with a great history and truly American spirit of generosity," said Martin, who considers himself a "very conservative, free-market guy" who worries not only about a potential loss of American jobs, but the loss of a "great American institution."
"InBev was able to make the offer when the dollar was weak, but they are going to be billions of dollars in debt," Martin said. "They are going to have to make cutbacks — cutbacks on jobs, and cutbacks on the way AB does things. That is all going to lead to inevitable change. It won't be the same."
Will Bud Drinkers Defect?
Martin says he has not yet decided whether or not he'll continue drinking Bud, but if the Web response is any indication, others may turn to competitors.
Charles Carpenter, who signed the Savebudweiser petition wrote there, "I'm proud to drink American! If AB is not American-owned, I'll be sure to enjoy another American beer."
Wally O'Neill, the bartender at the Elks lodge in Wachtung, N.J., echoed that sentiment and said club members there would not keep drinking Budweiser.
"That would be a problem here," O'Neill said. "Let me put it to you this way: This is an America-first type of place. We've got a lot of old school people here who don't like seeing the country sold out. Anheuser-Busch selling out to the Belgians is like Ford or GM selling out to the Japanese."
It's not just St. Louis natives and old school Elks who say they will think twice about drinking Bud, at least one frat guy is jumping off the Clydesdale-pulled wagon too.
"We usually drink the really cheap stuff," said Dustin Cooperman, a recent graduate of Cornell University and ZBT fraternity member.
He said frat boys love America too, and that "it is important to drink American beers to support the American economy."
Despite the current brouhaha, Michael Bellas, chairman and CEO of Beverage Marketing, said he does not think Americans will abandon the brand if the InBev deal goes through.
"Miller is owned by [South African brewery] SAB. Heineken is a global brand. Americans have no problem drinking either. AB sells about 110 million barrels of beer a year. That's a huge piece of the market, and I don't see it changing."
But Fowler, the creator of Savebudweiser.com, said seeing Anheuser-Busch fall into the hands of a foreign entity would hurt, regardless of the sales.
"We were motivated after first hearing rumors of a possible merger," she said. "We've been AB fans for quite some time now, and it is disheartening that AB might lose its American roots."