The corn syrup war that’s raged between the makers of Miller Lite and Coors Light and Bud Light since Super Bowl Sunday, after Bud Light’s makers singled out its rivals for using the ingredient, is coming to a courthouse in Madison.
On Thursday, MillerCoors filed a lawsuit against Bud Light maker Anheuser-Busch in U.S. District Court in Madison, demanding an immediate end to what the Chicago-based brewer calls false advertising by the St. Louis-based brewer that started Feb. 3 with a campaign featuring Bud Light’s now-familiar “Dilly Dilly” medieval characters during Super Bowl LIII.
In addition to an injunction barring further airing of the ads, MillerCoors is seeking an order requiring A-B to “correct the false and misleading impressions” created by the ads, along with monetary damages.
The campaign for Bud Light, the lawsuit states, mocks Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup in brewing the low-calorie beers, contrasted with Bud Light, which was claimed in the ads to use only water, rice, barley and hops.
In an article in Food and Wine magazine, the lawsuit states, the chief of marketing for Bud Light, Andy Goeler, “publicly confirmed A-B’s intent to mislead consumers into believing that they will consume corn syrup if they drink Miller Lite or Coors Light.”
Goeler told the magazine, according to the lawsuit, that through research A-B learned that corn syrup is an “ingredient that consumers prefer not to consume if they don’t have to.”
“Under the guise of ‘transparency,’ A-B 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,” the lawsuit states, adding that many consumers don’t know the difference between corn syrup used for fermentation in brewing and HFCS, a sweetener used in soft drinks.
The lawsuit states that A-B itself uses corn syrup as a fermentation aid in its Busch, Busch Light, Natural Light and Bud Ice beer brands, among other products.
MillerCoors said A-B “plotted an extensive and pervasive advertising scheme designed to frighten consumers into switching away from Miller Lite and Coors Light to Bud Light.” A-B invested more than $13 million in media time to advertise during Super Bowl LIII “to perpetuate the confusion,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement, Gemma Hart, vice president of communications at A-B, called the MillerCoors lawsuit “baseless” and said A-B has no plans to change its advertising.
“The recent Bud Light campaign is truthful and intended to point out a key difference from Miller Lite and Coors Light,” Hart wrote. “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.”
On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that MillerCoors is set to launch its own attack campaign targeting Bud Light during March Madness, the NCAA basketball playoffs.