Before Feb. 3’s Super Bowl game, if anyone asked what we would be talking about after the game that happened during the game, corn would not have made the list.
In its Super Bowl ads on national TV, Bud Light beer attacked rival brands, and it was corn growers who felt the sting. The Bud Light commercials took a whack at Miller Lite and Coors Lite. The ads emphasized that Anheuser Busch isn’t using corn syrup in making Bud Light, and questioned why Miller and Coors do use corn syrup.
Farmers are angry that Anheuser Busch took a cheap shot at an important U.S. crop, as the brewer decided to use a very expensive Super Bowl ad to attack corn farming and corn syrup. Corn syrup is a sugar, just like any other sugar.
“As a family farmer, I’m disappointed Bud Light chose to denigrate corn in their Super Bowl ad as part of a marketing scheme to attack their competition in the beer business,” says Mark Recker, past president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Leave farmers out of beer wars
Recker, a northeast Iowa farmer, saw the commercial on TV. He was watching the game along with millions of other people. “I was shocked by what I saw and heard in that ad,” he says.
In a statement issued by ICGA the day after the game, Recker said: “I’m proud of the generations of farmers who grow corn that’s used in over 4,000 everyday products from corn-fed beef to bourbon to makeup. Iowa is the No. 1 corn-producing state, and corn is the top crop grown in our country. This attack especially hits home at a time when farmers are hurting due to the challenging economic conditions. Corn is a homegrown renewable crop that feeds and fuels my family and yours.”
He added, “Please leave us out of the beer wars. Support your local corn farmers by standing with us and choosing products that include corn!”
Anheuser Busch officials say they have nothing against corn syrup; the company just doesn’t use it in Bud Light. “Consumers want transparency, and we’re providing. It’s up to them to decide what beer is right for them,” the company said in a news release.
Corn syrup unjustly targeted
Recker says the ad is another mischaracterization of a corn product. In recent years, some groups and companies have questioned whether the human body can digest and use high fructose corn syrup differently than other sweeteners. Critics of corn syrup claim it is contributing to the nation’s obesity problem.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, says it has no evidence corn syrup is different than any other sugar. Nutritionists and medical researchers point out that all sweeteners need to be consumed in limited amounts.
Bud Light began prominently listing its ingredients in February. The label says this beer is made from water, barley, rice and hops. Many brands of beer already list calories and other information on their labels or packaging, but Bud Light says it is the first to list its actual ingredients. Such label information isn’t required for alcohol products.
Anheuser Busch says it bought more than 1 million pounds of corn products last year and uses corn syrup in its other beer recipes, such as Busch Light. But the brewer uses U.S.-grown rice, rather than corn syrup, in the Bud Light fermentation process.
Unfair marketing ploy
“It’s hard to understand why Budweiser is singling out corn growers and giving them a black eye,” Recker says. “It’s frustrating, especially during these tough economic times for farmers.”
Recker was in Colorado in early February, meeting with other growers to discuss ways to increase corn demand and improve prices.
“This isn’t the first time corn syrup has been unfairly singled out,” he notes. “This is an opportunity for us to educate consumers. That’s part of what we do as an organization of growers. We need to continue to help people understand that corn syrup is no different than simple sugar. It’s a safe, nutritious, locally grown food product.”
Another Iowa corn grower, Kevin Ross, tweeted out a video showing him dumping cans of Bud Light down the drain.
Ross says the Bud Light commercial is misleading, implying that corn syrup is bad for consumers. “That’s nonsense,” he says. The video got a lot of views online via social media. Ross, farming in western Iowa, is vice president of the National Corn Growers Association.
Jon Doggett, CEO of NCGA, says Anheuser Busch has responded to NCGA privately in a phone call. He says NCGA has a board meeting scheduled soon, and it is hoped a representative of Anheuser Busch can attend. Stay tuned.