Ad Alert

Bud Light: ‘Brewed with no Corn Syrup’

"The bottom line is that the claims regarding corn syrup in brewing are more marketing than science."


Ad Alert

Bud Light: ‘Brewed with no Corn Syrup’

Editor’s Note: Updates have been posted at the end of this article.

It stands to reason that if much-maligned high-fructose corn syrup isn’t great for you, similar-sounding corn syrup can’t be that good for you either. At least that seemed to be the implied message of a Bud Light Super Bowl ad that aired Sunday, though the ad didn’t mention high-fructose corn syrup by name. The ad, above, suggested that Bud Light is more nutritious than Miller Lite and Coors Light because, unlike its competitors, it isn’t brewed with corn syrup.

There are two reasons why Bud Light’s Super Bowl ad doesn’t score so well on the truth-of-meter.

The first is that though they sound similar, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and corn syrup are chemically different. Corn syrup is “essentially” 100 percent glucose, while the most common forms of HFCS contain either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, according to the FDA. Consuming high amounts of fructose, not glucose, has been linked to a number of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The second reason is how beer is made. Just because a beer is brewed with corn syrup doesn’t mean corn syrup makes it into the final product. Its use is limited to the fermentation process. (Bud Light, by the way, is brewed with rice.)

As David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told the New York Times:

Corn syrup is a form of sugar that’s been produced from a grain. Whether that sugar is produced by first milling and then enzymatically treating the grain, or doing so from corn in a separate process, isn’t going to matter much to the final nutritional quality.

Oof, that was a lot of sciency-sounding words. Chris Mohr, a nutrition advisor at Men’s Health, puts it in layman’s terms:

Sugar is used in the brewing process to feed the yeast as part of the fermentation, so the sweetener used for brewing beer is a moot point since the finished product does not have sugar.

Indeed, if you listen closely to the ad, Bud Light isn’t saying that Miller Lite and Coors Light contain corn syrup but rather that its two closest competitors use corn syrup to brew their beer. Miller Lite makes a point of noting on its website that while corn syrup is used in the fermentation process, “no corn syrup remains in the finished product.” (Fun fact: Bud Light’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, makes other beers, including Bud Ice, Natural Ice and Rolling Rock, that list corn syrup as an ingredient. For its part, Anheuser-Busch said in a statement to the New York Times that its Bud Light Super Bowl commercial is part of an effort “to provide consumer transparency and elevate the [light] beer category.”)

Because he put it so succinctly, the last word goes to Ludwig, the Harvard professor:

The bottom line is that the claims regarding corn syrup in brewing are more marketing than science.

Find more of our coverage on beer here.

UPDATE 5/4/20: A federal appeals court has struck down a lower court’s ruling that Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bud Light, stop making corn syrup claims about rival beers, arguing that “[l]itigation should not be a substitute for competition in the market.” Molson Coors, the maker of Miller Lite and Coors Light, sued Anheuser-Busch in March 2019 after the above Bud Light ad aired during the Super Bowl.

Our Ad Alerts are not just about false and deceptive marketing issues, but may also be about ads that, although not necessarily deceptive, should be viewed with caution. Ad Alerts can also be about single issues and may not include a comprehensive list of all marketing issues relating to the brand discussed.

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