Since the judge’s ruling, the corn syrup war has been relatively quiet with the exception of an announcement from Anheuser-Busch InBev in July that it’s planning to offer a new, limited-time-offer beer in the heart of the Corn Belt; the company will sell Harvest Reserve Deep Golden Lager in Omaha, Des Moines and surrounding regions. The new beer may well be an attempt to mend fences with farmers and beer drinkers in the Midwest who took offense at the company’s targeting of corn syrup.
This war between Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors may yet have additional twists and turns. But enough has already transpired to make it unclear if there is going to be a clear winner in this contest. At this point, the corn syrup war seems to raise more questions than answers.
The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the “Special Delivery” commercial aired that the feud between the two beermakers had derailed a plan for a brand-neutral ad campaign promoting beer, which was to be sponsored by the biggest U.S. beer producers, including MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. This development further complicates the question about the corn syrup war’s possible winner.
Also, beer sales peaked in 2008. Beer’s share of the alcoholic drinks market has been eroding due to less demand among younger consumers and the rise in popularity of wines and spirits.
Could this sustained decline in beer sales have been the trigger for the corn syrup war? While all the figures aren’t available, according to the MillerCoors’ lawsuit, Anheuser-Busch InBev had spent as much as $30 million on its campaign in the corn syrup war. Add to that Anheuser-Busch InBev’s unknown but likely large legal expenses, and the cost goes even higher. On the other hand, despite a decline in its market share, Bud Light’s sales in 2018 were about $5.3 billion, according to retail data provider IRI. Maybe Anheuser-Busch InBev sees its marketing and legal expenses as part of a long-term winning strategy? Or could a cooperative approach have been a better, more cost-effective solution? Could Bud Light have potentially improved sales for less money using a “rising tide lifts all the boats” approach rather than launching this war? There is no way to know the answer since the brand-neutral campaign never happened.
Another point to consider is that Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have produced a lot of very entertaining creative as a result of this brand war. And for some beer-drinking partisans who already have a favorite brand, the squabble might be a lot like watching their favorite sports team in a tight game with its archrival. Perhaps creative ads that feature a strong dose of one-upmanship can serve as a way to further strengthen existing brand loyalty? It’s a tantalizing idea, but whether any beer drinkers are likely to switch brands as a result of the corn syrup war seems uncertain.