MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Apparently long past arguments of “tastes great” and “less filling,” beer giant MillerCoors accused its rival Anheuser-Busch on Thursday of misleading customers – via a million-dollar advertising campaign – into believing Miller Lite and Coors Lite contain high-fructose corn syrup.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday in Wisconsin federal court, MillerCoors says the advertisements misled consumers to believe Miller Lite and Coors Lite contain the sweeteners in an attempt to increase sales of Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light – which Anheuser-Busch says is only made using water, rice, barley and hops. MillerCoors is represented by attorneys from Quarles Brady and Crowell Moring.
MillerCoors claims the ads are meant to purposely confuse customers since it does not use high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener found in hundreds of products that is increasingly being linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. Instead, MillerCoors says it uses a very different product – plain corn syrup – in its fermentation process, which is completely consumed by the yeast and therefore absent in the final beverage.
“Under the guise of ‘transparency,’ Anheuser-Busch 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 Anheuser-Busch itself) and HFCS, the controversial sweetener commonly used in soft drinks,” MillerCoors says in the 38-page complaint.
Anheuser-Busch chief of marketing Andy Goeler told Food & Wine Magazine during a recent interview that “the campaign has ‘led to more searches on Google for corn syrup than ever before.’”
The company spent over $13 million to kick off the ad campaign in February during Super Bowl LIII, which was viewed by nearly 100 million people.
MillerCoors says the campaign has damaged its reputation and sales, and wants a judge to bar Anheuser-Busch from any further false advertisements. The company seeks damages including any profits gained from the ad campaign.
Anheuser-Busch did not immediately respond to an email request for comment sent Thursday.
MillerCoors’s Vice President of Communications Adam Collins said in a statement Thursday that the lawsuit seeks to show “the world the truth.”
“We have always believed in transparency, which is why we were the first major brewer to put nutritional information and all of our ingredients online. But while their Bud Light brand is talking all about transparency, Anheuser-Busch has admitted that its campaign was designed to mislead the public,” Collins said. “Anheuser-Busch is fearmongering over a common beer ingredient it uses in many of its own beers, as a fermentation aid that is not even present in the final product. This deliberate deception is bad for the entire beer category.”