MillerCoors sues AB InBev for ‘misleading’ Super Bowl ad campaign

The corn syrup war has boiled over into the courtroom this week, after US brewer MillerCoors filed a lawsuit against AB InBev over the latter’s “false and misleading advertising campaign” shown during this year’s Super Bowl.

MillerCoors, owned by beer conglomerate Molson Coors Brewing, filed a lawsuit against the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, yesterday (21 March), claiming it had purposefully deceived customers into thinking that there’s corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light.

In the lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, MillerCoors stated that it only uses corn syrup (not high-fructose corn syrup) as a fermentation aid and thus “no corn syrup appears in the finished Miller Lite and Coors Light beer products”. It added that “there is no HFCS in any of MillerCoors products”.

“AB InBev, which makes and sells Bud Light beer, has 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,” it continued.

“Under the guise of “transparency,” 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 (used by numerous brewers, including AB itself) and HFCS, the controversial sweetener commonly used in soft drinks.”

It pointed out that AB InBev, while not using corn syrup in the production process of Bud Light, which is brewed using rice, does also use it as a fermentation aid for products including Stella Artois Cidre, Stella Artois Spritzer, Busch, Busch Light, and Bud Ice.

It also highlighted how AB InBev had spent US$13 million on the campaign which was then broadcast to almost 100 million viewers during the Super Bowl alone.

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”.

In a statement, AB InBev vice president of communications, Gemma Hart, said: “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.”

“Those beers [Miller Coors and Coors Light] are brewed with corn syrup; Bud Light is not. These are facts.”

MillerCoors is asking for an injunction to stop AB InBev from continuing to air the ads.

Last month, it was revealed that a beer alliance formed to tackle declining sales had broken up after the spat.

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

However, the Wall Street Journal reported that MillerCoors had since pulled out of a planned meeting, calling for talks to be paused following the disagreement.

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