More than a year after it began, a federal circuit judge ruled that Anheuser-Busch InBev is free to continue its advertising campaign calling out the use of corn syrup in Molson Coors Beverage Company’s flagship light lagers.
“If Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch’s ads, it can mock Bud Light in return,” U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit wrote in an opinion on Friday, May 1. “Litigation should not be a substitute for competition in the market.”
Molson Coors, then named MillerCoors, filed a deceptive advertising lawsuit against the world’s largest beer manufacturer after it ran a commercial during the 2019 Super Bowl pointing out the use of corn syrup during the brewing process of Miller Lite and Coors Light, which Bud Light does not use.
At the heart of Easterbrook’s decision is that Miller Lite and Coors Light both list “corn syrup (dextrose)” among their ingredients.
“Molson Coors insists that a list of ‘ingredients’ differs from what the finished products ‘contain,’” Easterbrook wrote. “That’s possible, and the omission of alcohol from the list of ingredients could support a conclusion that Molson Coors treats that word as a synonym for ‘inputs.’ Yet common usage equates a product’s ingredients with its constituents — indeed, some of Molson Coors’s own managers testified that a beer ‘contains’ what’s on the ingredients list. At all events Anheuser-Busch has not advertised that its rival’s products ‘contain’ corn syrup.”
Easterbrook pointed out that neither Coors Light nor Miller Lite lists alcohol as an ingredient, though alcohol is indeed in each finished product.
Molson Coors maintained that its competition’s messaging is misleading to consumers.
“That is unfair to the American people and we believe it is unlawful, which is why there have been multiple federal rulings against Anheuser Busch in this case,” chief communications officer Adam Collins said in a statement.
Earlier in 2019, a different judge granted Molson Coors an injunction that blocked A-B from displaying some billboards and television ads.
A-B said it is “pleased” with the decision.
“We have said since the beginning that this lawsuit brought by Molson Coors is baseless,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “Right now our focus is on supporting our employees, our communities, and our business partners during this unprecedented crisis.”