Beer, Corn Syrup and the Law

May 6, 2020

Another silly lawsuit bites the dust.

As I have remarked in this space before, I don’t like frivolous lawsuits, in the food & beverage industry or anywhere else. That’s why I was gratified to see the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deliver a slapdown to Molson Coors in its absurd spat with Anheuser-Busch over an ad campaign about corn syrup.

Starting with last year’s Super Bowl, A-B ran a series of ads tweaking Molson Coors for using corn syrup to make Coors Light and Miller Lite. One of them depicted the “king” of Bud Light trundling a giant barrel labeled “corn syrup” up to the “castles” of Miller Lite and Coors Light and asking, “Is this your corn syrup?”

Molson Coors decided this was something that deserved the full weight of the law, filing suit against A-B. Basically, its argument was that A-B couldn’t say Molson Coors’ light beers are “made with” corn syrup, even though they are, because that implies that they “contain” corn syrup. (The syrup is consumed by the yeast that produces the beer’s alcohol.)

The Seventh Circuit judges weren’t having this nonsense, noting that corn syrup is on the ingredient lists for Coors Light and Miller Lite, and saying: “Many people infer from a list of a finished product’s ‘ingredients’ that things on the list are in the finished product. If Anheuser-Busch has led consumers to believe this, it is hard to see why those statements can be enjoined.”

The court went on: “If Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch’s ads, it can mock Bud Light in return. Litigation should not be a substitute for competition in the market.” The decision reversed a lower court injunction that kept A-B from advertising that its products contain no corn syrup.

Good.

If Americans, in business or anywhere else, are going to expect the judiciary to be everyone’s daddy, they shouldn’t be surprised when they occasionally get the judicial equivalent of “you kids settle this yourselves.”