Big beer alliance in jeopardy following ‘corn syrup war’

An alliance between some of the world’s biggest brewers is in jeopardy after an ad campaign by AB InBev, shown during the Super Bowl, led to a fall-out with rival MillerCoors over the use of corn syrup in brewing.

The rift began when AB InBev ran three adverts during the Super Bowl promoting its beer brand Bud Light. Using the brand’s tongue-in-cheek medieval theme, the ad highlighted the use of corn syrup by MillerCoors in its brands Miller Lite and Coors Light, ending with the tagline “Bud Light, brewed with no corn syrup”.

AB InBev, Molson Coors (the owner of MillerCoors), Heineken and Constellation Brands have been discussing a potential multimillion-dollar, industry-wide campaign for over a year in the wake of falling beer sales.

However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, MillerCoors has since pulled out of a meeting, planned for next month, calling for talks to be paused following the disagreement.

This is not the first time that the two brewers have slated each other’s beers, however the timing of AB InBev’s advert has been criticised.

Speaking to Wall Street Journal, Pete Marino, chief of communications at MillerCoors, said it would be a “waste of time and money” to work on the collaborative campaign “while the dominant industry leader is spending millions of dollars demonising beer ingredients.”

“Obviously since Anheuser-Busch used the largest marketing platform in the United States to demonise the beer category, we’ve decided to put that work on pause.

“AB InBev’s misguided attempt to gain a competitive advantage threatens to single-handedly set back the health of our category for a long time,” he added.

Chief executive of Heineken, Jean-François van Boxmeer, said the tone of AB InBev’s advert “was as unfriendly as I’ve seen during the Super Bowl campaign.” The brewer added that it remained committed to growing the beer category.

In response, Cesar Vargas, vice president of legal and corporate affairs at AB InBev, said that as far as the brewer was concerned, the campaign was still going ahead.

“We, along with other members of our industry, remain fully committed to strengthening the beer category and our joint efforts to highlight the very positive impact that beer has on our economy and in our communities will continue as planned,” Vargas said.

Referring to its advert, a spokesperson for the brewer stated that transparency was essential. “It’s a fact and one we thought consumers should know as they decide which beer to drink,” the statement read.

According to recent figures released by US trade group the Distilled Spirits Council, last year spirits continued to gain market share at the expense of beer and wine, rising by 0.7% to 37.4% of the total alcohol market. The trade group revealed that in the past 20 years, beer’s US market share has fallen from 56% to 45.5%, while spirits and wine have increased their reach, rising from 28.2% to 37.3% and from 15.8% to 17.2% respectively.

Corn syrup can be added in the brewing process to raise the level of fermentable sugars. Miller Coors has reiterated that it uses corn syrup rather than high-fructose corn syrup, the latter of which has been linked to health problems such as type 2 diabetes.

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