When Corn Syrup Turns Sour

April 18, 2019

If you one of the nearly 100 million viewers of the Superbowl then you must have seen some of the commercials. One of the commercials features Bud Light implying that Coors Light and Miller Lite has corn syrup in their beer which has now become the subject of a lawsuit.

The Bud Light commercial takes place in medieval times and starts off with an incorrect delivery of corn syrup to the Bud Light castle. The Bud Light king takes the corn syrup shipment to the Miller Lite castle. But Miller Lite tells the Bud Light king they have already received their corn syrup and instead tells them to check with the Coors Light castle. Upon arriving at the Coors Light castle, the Coors Light solder states that “to be clear we brew Coors Light with corn syrup. The commercial ends with a statement that “Bud Light. Brewed with no corn syrup.”

Following this Bud Light commercial campaign, MillerCoors, makers of Miller Lite and Coors Light filed suit against Anheuser-Busch (“AB”), makers of Bud Light, in March alleging false advertising along with trademark dilution and are seeking temporary and permanent injunction from preventing the airing of Bud Light commercials taking aim at MillerCoor products or from any future campaign from suggesting their beers have corn syrup.

In addition to the Superbowl commercial of corn syrup deliver, AB also showcased several other commercials such as the “Shop Talk” advertisement that depicts two medieval barbers discussing Coors Light having corn syrup and Bud Light having none. “Trojan Horse” is another commercial depicting two Trojan Horse occupants whispering the different ingredients where one mentions Miller Lite is made with corn syrup and Bud Light is not. The Bud Light commercial campaign also includes two more advertisements “Mountain Folk” and “Cave Explorer” that follow the same theme of discussing ingredients.

As part of their complaint MillerCoors pleads that AB launched a false and misleading advertising campaign in order to deceive beer consumers from thinking that Miller Lite and Coors Light contains corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. MillerCoors states that “[u]nder the guide of ‘transparency,’ AB singled out MillerCoors use of common brewing fermentation aid, corn syrup, for a deliberate and nefarious purpose.”  In addition, the plaintiffs argue that AB conducted several focus group testing that revealed consumers do not understand the difference between corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup is used by many brewers, including AB where as high-fructose corn syrup is a controversial sweetener used in soft drinks. MillerCoors states that AB “plodded an extensive and pervasive advertising scheme” with the aim to “frighten consumer into switching away from Miller Lite and Coors Light to Bud Light. As facts, MillerCoors mentions that none of their consumer glass, bottle, or cans of Miller Lite or Coors Light contain corny syrup, corn syrup is different than high-fructose corn syrup, and that neither Miller Lite or Coors Light have high-fructose corn syrup.

MillerCoors outlines how sugars and corn-syrup are used in all beer manufacturing fermentation process:

As with all beer manufacturing, the fermentation process for Coors Light and Miller Lite products uses some form of carbohydrate or sugar as an adjunct. During this integral process, yeast breaks down and consumes the carbohydrate or sugar to yield the desired byproduct: alcohol. For both Coors Light and Miller Lite, MillerCoors uses corn syrup as the sugar for this fermentation process. AB also has a number of beers for which it uses corn syrup in the same way.

Once the fermentation process is complete, no corn syrup remains in either Miller Lite’s or Coors Light’s final beer products. Contrary to the implications created by AB’s Campaign, MillerCoors does not add corn syrup to the final Coors Light or Miller Lite products.

Upon information and belief, like MillerCoors, AB also uses carbohydrates during the fermentation process to produce the alcohol contained in its final beer products, including Bud Light. AB’s sugar of choice for Bud Light is purportedly rice, but it uses corn syrup in many of its other beers and alcoholic products. There is no meaningful health or safety difference between the rice used for Bud Light brewing and the corn syrup used by Miller Lite and Coors Light. They serve as fermentation adjuncts—a source of food for yeast that is broken down during the brewing process.

With regards to their first cause of action MillerCoors argues AB engaged in false advertising under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)by engaging in an advertising campaign that incorrectly portrays Miller Lite and Coors Light containing corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup. Plaintiff’s second cause of action for trademark dilution is also under the Lanham act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)claiming that AB was using Coors Light and Miller Lite trademarks without the authorization of MillerCoors in their advertisement campaign. In addition, their portrayal of MillerCoors products containing corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup has diluted and damaged the quality and good will of their products.

AB has yet to file their answer.

You can read the complaint here: 2019 WL 1324316

Image Source: File Photo/REUTERS

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