(Reuters) – A U.S. court on Friday barred Anheuser Busch InBev NV, the maker of Bud Light beer, from using marketing that suggested rival Molson Coors Brewing Co’s MillerCoors used corn syrup, a sweetener, in the final production of its light beers.
The ruling follows a controversial one-minute Bud Light commercial aired during the National Football League championship game in February, that shamed Molson Coors for its Miller Lite and Coors Light brews containing corn syrup.
Federal court judge William Conley of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled Friday evening in favour of Molson Coors in a lawsuit against Belgian-based Anheuser Busch InBev for false advertising and misuse of the Miller and Coors trademarks.
In his ruling, Conley said Anheuser Busch had hoped to exploit confusion surrounding the use of corn syrup in beer production, and that “consumers would interpret advertising statements about ‘made with corn syrup’ or ‘brewed with corn syrup’ as corn syrup actually being in the final products.”
MillerCoors, the U.S. arm of Molson Coors, has said that Miller Lite and Coors Light do use corn syrup, while Bud Light uses rice, to aid fermentation. But it notes that the sweetener gets consumed by the yeast during fermentation, meaning it is not in the final product.
The ruling bars Anheuser Busch from using specific language featured prominently during the ad campaign in any future commercials, print advertising or social media.
After the Superbowl commercial, Anheuser Busch faced backlash from both the targeted brewer and angered corn farmers, who took to social media. Many videos were posted of users pouring cans of Bud Light down the drain, and the National Corn Growers Association expressed disappointment with the beer maker.
The judge deferred ruling on whether existing Bud Light packaging, which claims the beer has “no corn syrup,” will have to be removed from stores. The two parties are supposed to brief the court on their views on that matter in the coming weeks.
“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 CEO Gavin Hattersley said.
Anheuser Busch was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Rishika Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Richa Naidu in Chicago; Editing by Sam Holmes)