Bud Light’s and Coors Light’s corn-syrup battle reveals a dark reality for the beer industry

Bud Light is battling with Coors Light and Miller Lite over corn syrup.

caption
Bud Light is battling with Coors Light and Miller Lite over corn syrup.
source
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Bud Light is battling with Coors Light and Miller Lite after Bud Light ran a Super Bowl ad bashing MillerCoors brands for using corn syrup in beer.
  • Many iconic light beer brands are struggling to win over drinkers – Bud Light sales dropped by 5.5% in 2018, Coors Light sales fell by 3.9%, and Miller Lite sales dropped by 1.3%.
  • Americans are increasingly ditching beer and buying more expensive brews if they do drink, leaving iconic beer brands scrambling for solutions.

Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite had a contentious week, revealing a lurking threat in the light beer business.

During the Super Bowl on Sunday, Bud Light debuted a series of ads bashing Coors Light and Miller Lite for using corn syrup to make their light beers.

MillerCoors swiftly responded, tweeting: “More taste, fewer calories, and half the carbs of Bud Light.”

“Bud Light is starting this fight for one simple reason. They are scared,” MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley said in a note to distributors on Sunday, as quoted in Behind Beer, a blog owned by the beer giant.

Read more: MillerCoors CEO blasts Bud Light as ‘scared’ of Miller Lite and Coors Light following Super Bowl commercials

Miller Lite ran a full page ad in the New York Times, slamming the “unnecessary #corntroversy.” Bud Light even ended up backing away from its apparent anti-corn stance following backlash from the corn lobby.

“In the Bud Light Kingdom we love corn too!” the brand tweeted.

Why are Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light throwing down in this corn-syrup-drenched battle? First, all three brands are struggling to win over drinkers. And second, they seem to think that being seen as the higher quality or most nutritious option could be key to survival.

Despite retaining its spot as the top-selling beer in the US, Bud Light sales dropped by 5.5% in 2018, Brewbound reports, citing IRI data. Coors Light sales fell by 3.9%, while Miller Lite sales dropped by 1.3%.

The sales slump comes as the wider beer industry struggles to appeal to millennials and Gen Z in the same way it did to prior generations.

However, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Bud Light are among a segment that is being hit particularly hard: domestic premium brands. While this category, which also includes Budweiser, includes most of the best-selling beers in the US, overall sales dropped by 4.2% in 2018.

“The Premium and Premium Light segments remain under pressure as consumers trade up to higher-priced tiers,” Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito said in a call with investors in October.

To reverse the downward trend, these beers are looking towards the bright spots in the beer industry and trying to take notes. Craft beer and domestic super premiums (like Michelob Ultra and Budweiser Reserve) were among the categories that grew in 2018. These are brands that are both more expensive and perceived as higher-quality products.

So, to better compete with these pricier brews, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Bud Light are on a mission to convince customers that they are the higher-quality light beer, whether that means a lack of corn syrup or simply fewer calories. As the battle continues, you can expect these iconic light beers to keep trying to class up their acts.