This post has been updated with a statement from InBev.
Bud Light sparked a feud during the Super Bowl after airing an advertisement that boasted how the beer doesn’t contain corn syrup, as opposed to other beer brands Miller Lite and Coors Light.
“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,” Kevin Ross, an Iowa-based farmer and first vice president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), told Yahoo Finance. “It’s a sugar; plants have sugars and corn, like many others, has sugars, and it’s used to turn yeast into alcohol.”
Bud Light parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev stated that it purchased over one billion pounds of corn ingredients in 2018 and added: “We fully support corn growers and will continue to invest in the corn industry. Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercials are only meant to point out a key difference in Bud Light from some other light beers. This effort is to provide consumers transparency and elevate the beer category.”
In a statement to Yahoo Finance, a Bud Light spokesperson 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.”
Ross, who that he was “upset” and “disappointed” upon seeing the commercials, pointed out that InBev uses corn syrup in several of its products.
“So it was kind of talking out of two sides of your mouth for a broader company to do something like that, and even attack some of their own products,” Ross said. “It felt like it was an attack on farmers, and that’s really what struck me — attacking my industry, attacking neighbors, friends, and what we do for a living.”
Following the commercial, the NCGA 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!”
Coors Light and Miller Lite use water, barley, corn, and hops as ingredients in their drinks. Bud Light uses the same, aside from using rice in place of corn.
For many people in Ross’s state of Iowa and several other Midwestern states, growing corn “is their economy, their livelihoods,” Ross said. “You start attacking a great product and grain like corn, and farmers are going to get upset and a whole lot of other people are, too. It seemed like a poor move on their part.”
Mark Lambert, the senior communications manager for the National Corn Growers Association, 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.”
“We’ve had six years of bad farm economy, where corn producers are growing a product the country needs at below the cost of production, and that can’t continue,” Lambert said. “Little things that hack away at the places where they sell their product are not a positive development, which is why we reacted the way we did.”
‘You start attacking a great product ...’
MillerCoors, the parent company of Miller Lite and Coors Light, didn’t hold back on Twitter once the commercial aired. The company 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.”
It’s important to note the 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.
“What we’re talking about here is the corn syrup that’s used basically for the sugar in it in the fermenting process in the brewery,” Mark Recker, chairman of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, told Yahoo Finance. “The corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, they’re both safe products. It’s sugar, essentially. … As with all food and beverages, the proper path to follow is moderation.”
‘They brought the fight to us’
Ross, the Iowa corn farmer, said that the response he’s seen to the Bud Light ad “showed how important they’ve thought this issue is and that misleading advertising is something that just needs to stop.”
“It’s not good for the American consumer and it’s just not right,” he said. “We need to work on this and make sure the American public understands the great products that we’ve got and the safe food supply that we’ve created in this country.”
Recker agreed, stating that this was something he and other corn farmers want to have a discussion about.
“Bud Light, they brought the fight to us,” he said. “So I think it’s incumbent upon us as corn farmers to stand up for our industry and our fellow farmers to have this discussion, and make sure the consumer understands that this is a quality product.”
Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.