MillerCoors takes another swipe at Bud Light for its corn syrup Super Bowl ad

  • MillerCoors published Nielsen data showing Bud Light's falling sales since the rival beer aired a Super Bowl ad attacking Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup in their products.
  • MillerCoors had already hit back at Bud Light on Twitter and with a full-page New York Times ad.
  • The ad further jeopardized a beer alliance after MillerCoors pulled out of a meeting scheduled for this month.
A scene from Bud Lite's 2019 Super Bowl ad.
Source: Anheuser-Busch
A scene from Bud Lite's 2019 Super Bowl ad.

MillerCoors took another swipe at Bud Light in a blog post that pointed to the rival beermakers' falling sales since it aired its Super Bowl ad that called out Miller and Coors' use of corn syrup in their lite beers.

Anheuser-Busch InBev bought 5½ minutes of air time for the 2019 Super Bowl, but it was a single 60-second commercial for Bud Light that made the biggest waves. The ad shamed Molson Coors Brewing's Miller Lite and Coors Light beers for using corn syrup, leading to backlash from farmers and MillerCoors, Molson's U.S. division.

After the ad aired, MillerCoors responded on Twitter and took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to hit back at Bud Light and defend its use of corn syrup.

Miller Lite and Coors Light use corn syrup to feed yeast in the brewing process. Once the yeast eats the corn syrup, it turns into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Anheuser-Busch uses rice to feed the yeast when it brews Bud Light.

The commercial also jeopardized an alliance meant to help the biggest U.S. beer producers. The Wall Street Journal reported that MillerCoors pulled out of a meeting scheduled this month with AB InBev, Heineken and Constellation Brands. The four beer companies had been discussing teaming up for a national ad campaign to revive U.S. beer sales for more than a year before the Super Bowl commercial aired.

U.S. beer consumption has been declining as consumers drink more spirits and wine or eschew alcohol altogether. Last year, unit case volume of beer declined by 1.5 percent, according to IWSR data. To make matters worse for the country's biggest beer producers, craft beers have been eating into big brewers' sales.

But MillerCoors places the blame for Bud Light's declining sales squarely on the Super Bowl commercial. In a blog post citing Nielsen data, the brewer said Monday that Bud Light sales volume declined 9.2 percent from the previous year in the four weeks since the Super Bowl. In the 12 weeks prior the football game, sales volume for the beer was down 6.7 percent.

Citing Nielsen data, MillerCoors also noted that while Bud Light's market share has declined, Miller Lite has gained market share while Coors Light is holding its own in the premium lights category. However, it did not share its own sales volume growth.

"It's clear that Bud Light's desperate attempt to mislead consumers is not helping them," Anup Shah, vice president of the Miller Family of Brands, said in a statement.

AB InBev maintains that its goal for the campaign was to start a conversation about beer ingredients and transparency.

"We believe our current campaign has done just that – more people are searching for beer ingredients than ever before since running our ad," an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

A spokesperson from Nielsen confirmed the data cited in the blog post.

Ries & Ries branding consultant Laura Ries said MillerCoors' comments are a throwback to the cola wars between Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in the 1980s.

"That tends to put off consumers when there is too much negativity — and they're thinking too much of their competitors before the consumers," she said.

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