By Nat Ives
A judge on Friday temporarily barred Bud Light from suggesting in its advertising that rival beers Coors Light and Miller Lite contain corn syrup.
The decision granted parts of a preliminary injunction requested by MillerCoors LLC, which sued Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC in March over Bud Light ads pointing out that Miller Lite and Coors Light use corn syrup in their brewing processes.
The campaign began in the Super Bowl, during which Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC, part of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, ran several Bud Light ads introducing the corn-syrup theme. It continued after the game, including on billboards describing Bud Light as having "100 percent less corn syrup" than either rival brand.
MillerCoors argued in its lawsuit that the ads "deceive beer consumers into believing that there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light." There is no corn syrup in either beer by the time it reaches consumers, the company says, and high-fructose corn syrup is never involved at any point.
It sought an order barring Bud Light from repeating corn-syrup claims against Coors Light or Miller Lite, blocking any airings of specific ads including the original Super Bowl spot, and compelling Bud Light to run "corrective" advertising.
U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, Wis., on Friday temporarily barred Anheuser-Busch ads that say Bud Light contains "100% less corn syrup," describe corn syrup as an ingredient in Coors Light or Miller Lite, or mention corn syrup without reference to the brewing process. He denied Anheuser-Busch's motion to dismiss the larger suit.
"We are pleased with today's ruling that will force Anheuser Busch to change or remove advertisements that were clearly designed to mislead the American public," MillerCoors Chief Executive Gavin Hattersley said in a statement. "As the dominant market leader, Anheuser Busch should be seeking to grow the beer category, not destroy it through deceptive advertising."
Anheuser-Busch described the ruling as a victory because it left Bud Light's Super Bowl advertising unscathed, and said it plans to resume airing the original commercial as soon as this weekend.
Brewers are fighting for market share amid a two-decade slide at the hands of wine and spirits. Beer's share of U.S. alcohol sales fell to 45.5% last year from 56% in 1999, while spirits grew to 37.3% from 28.2% and wine edged up to 17.2% from 15.8%, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.
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