Beer importer tries to quash rumors of urine contamination

CHICAGO -- The U.S. importer of a Mexican beer popular among young urban professionals is mounting a campaign to quash rumors the beer is tainted with human urine, company officials said Monday.

'We recognize there's an element of risk in what we've done, but we thought it was necessary to have the truth out there,' said Michael Mazzoni, executive vice president and general manager for the Chicago-based Barton Beers Ltd..


Barton exports the Mexican beer Corona Extra, a bright yellow ale sometimes called the 'yuppie cocktail' because of its growing popularity with that crowd.

Mazzoni said the rumors about Corona are 'malicious and totally false' and said no reports of contamination have been received. But, he said, as the rumors have gained momentum, key Corona market sales dropped as much as 80 percent.

Barton first heard of the rumor, which has several variations, in late May. One story says people learned of the supposed contamination from television's '60 Minutes' on CBS, but the network has denied airing such a report.

Barton said the rumors first surfaced in Reno, Nev., and were traced to competitive wholesalers in the Reno area.

In June, Barton filed a $3 million lawsuit against Luce & Sons Inc., a Reno distributor of Heineken and Miller beers, saying its employees were circulating the rumor that Corona is tainted.


While not admitting guilt, Luce agreed in an out-of-court settlement to issue a letter pronouncing Corona free of contamination.

Mazzoni said despite Barton's efforts, the rumors have spread to other states, including California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas and Colorado.

'We are shocked that people in our industry could be so lacking in ethics and integrity, and we are gathering evidence to seek damages rahter than simply ask for a retraction,' Mazzoni said in a press release.

He said some of Corona's competitors view the beer as a major threat even though its sales volume is comparatively small for the beer industry. He said in 1986, Corona sold 13.5 million cases, less than half a percent of the total beer market.

'We are one of the little guys, and we are dismayed and disappointed that competitors would use dirty tactics to discredit our product,' Mazzoni said.

Beer Marketers Insights, an industry newsletter, called the rumor 'the ugliest and most unfair competitive attack we've seen.'

Mazzoni said Corona Extra is brewed at a state-of-the-art facility in Mexico and that random sample testing is conducted by an independent laboratory.

'No contamination has ever been found in Corona Extra anywhere, at any time,' he said.


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