This post has been updated.
Beer giant MillerCoors (TAP) is suing Anheuser-Busch, a subsidiary of beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), over a series of Bud Light ads that ran during this year’s Super Bowl.
The lawsuit asserts that Anheuser-Busch “publicly explained that it designed, tested, and launched a false and misleading advertising campaign targeting Miller Lite and Coors Light in order to deceive beer consumers into believing that there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light to increase sales of Bud Light.”
The complaint also alleges that Anheuser-Busch purported “false and misleading advertising claims” and is seeking monetary damages “under advertising and anti-dilution provisions of the Lanham Act.”
Gemma Hart, Vice President of Communications of AB InBev (BUD), which is the world’s largest brewing company, provided the following statement to Yahoo Finance:
“The recent Bud Light campaign is truthful and intended to point out a key difference from Miller Lite and Coors Light. Those beers are brewed with corn syrup; Bud Light is not. These are facts. MillerCoors has admitted to using corn syrup on its website, in social media, in a full page ad thanking Bud Light following the Super Bowl, and even in the lawsuit itself. MillerCoors’ lawsuit is baseless and will not deter Bud Light from providing consumers with the transparency they demand. We stand behind the Bud Light transparency campaign and have no plans to change the advertising.”
‘We’re proud of our high-quality, great-tasting beers’
The feud began during the Super Bowl, after Bud Light aired a commercial that boasted how its beer doesn’t contain corn syrup, unlike beer brands Miller Lite and Coors Light. That prompted fiery responses from MillerCoors, the parent company of Miller Lite and Coors Light, and corn farmers across the country.
After the commercial aired, MillerCoors tweeted: “We’re proud of our high-quality, great-tasting beers. We’re also proud that none of our products include any high fructose corn syrup.”
There is a difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Corn syrup is derived from corn starch breaking down into individual glucose molecules. HFCS is made by adding enzymes to the corn syrup, which converts some of the glucose to fructose.
The lawsuit stressed how Anheuser-Bev did not explain the difference.
“AB singled out MillerCoors use of a common brewing fermentation aid, corn syrup for a deliberate and nefarious purpose: it was aware that many consumers prefer not to ingest ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or ‘HFCS,’ and had reportedly conducted extensive focus group testing in which it found that consumers do not understand the difference between ordinary corn syrup and HFCS, the controversial sweetener commonly used in soft drinks,” the complaint stated.
Marty Maloney, Manager of Media Relations for MillerCoors, provided Yahoo Finance with the following statement:
“We have always believed in transparency, which is why we were the first major brewer to put nutritional information and all of our ingredients online. But while its Bud Light brand is talking all about transparency, Anheuser-Busch has admitted that its campaign was designed to mislead the public. Anheuser-Busch is fearmongering over a common beer ingredient it uses in many of its own beers, as a fermentation aid that is not even present in the final product. This deliberate deception is bad for the entire beer category. We are showing the world the truth.”
Corn farmers not happy
Corn farmers were also enraged by the ad. Following the commercial, the National Corn Grocers Association promptly responded on Twitter: “America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you. Our office is right down the road! We would love to discuss with you the many benefits of corn!”
The lawsuit accused AB of “purposely [failing] to inform consumers of these material facts: No corn syrup is in the glass, bottle, or can of Miller Lite or Coors Light that consumers drink; Corn syrup and HFCS are different; Miller Lite and Coors Light never use HFCS; AB also uses corn syrup as a fermentation aid in several of its products across various price points, ranging from above-premium brands to economy brands; and AB adds HFCS to several of its other brands.”
Kevin Ross, an Iowa-based farmer and first vice president of the NCGA, previously told Yahoo Finance: “They implied that [corn syrup] was an inferior product and that the other beers were doing something wrong because they use corn syrup in the brewing process,” (NCGA). “It’s a sugar; plants have sugars and corn, like many others, has sugars, and it’s used to turn yeast into alcohol.”
A Bud Light spokesperson attempted to backtrack from the commercial and in a previous press email said: “To be clear, we are not saying corn syrup is bad, we just don’t use it in Bud Light. It’s a less expensive ingredient and we think a quality light lager only should include the best ingredients.”
Mark Lambert, the senior communications manager for the NCGA, previously told Yahoo Finance that the timing of the ad was “horrible.”
“I think it was a failed marketing attempt,” he said. “Because whether they intended it or not, it came across as building market share on the backs of farmers who are currently in very dire economic straits.”
Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.