February 5, 2019 / 4:05 PM / 10 days ago

UPDATE 1-What's in a drink? Corn farmers sour on Bud Light after Super Bowl ad -Braun

(Adds details, background on Bud Light, Miller Lite. The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a market analyst for Reuters.)

By Karen Braun

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Feb 5 (Reuters) - Bud Light's advertisement about beer and corn syrup during Sunday night's Super Bowl angered corn farmers and surprised many others with the fact that beer would be linked with the sweetener.

In a one-minute commercial during the National Football League championship game, Bud Light shamed competitor Molson Coors Brewing Co for its Miller Lite and Coors Light brews containing corn syrup.

U.S. corn farmers immediately felt attacked by the ad, which was one of several commercials parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev reportedly spent more than $50 million to air during the game.

Amid Sunday’s backlash, Anheuser-Busch said it “fully supports” corn growers and will continue to invest in the industry.

While Bud may be the king of beers, the United States is the largest producer and exporter of corn in the world. Corn farmers, mainly located in the Midwest, are historically fans of Bud Light beer.

Ingredients posted online show that Bud Light contains water, barley malt, rice and hops. Competitors Coors Light and Miller Lite both use the same basic ingredients as Bud, though they swap rice with corn. Corn syrup and other sweeteners are used in fermenting in the beer-making process.

Miller Lite responded Sunday night by posting on Twitter: "Hey Bud Light, thanks for including us in our first Super Bowl ad in over 20 years. You forgot two things though... we have more taste and half the carbs! #itsmillertime."

MillerCoors, the U.S. arm of Molson Coors, says on its website that Miller Lite and Coors Light do use corn syrup, while Bud Light uses rice, to aid fermentation. But it notes that the sweetener gets consumed by the yeast during fermentation, meaning it is not in the final product.

It also says that no MillerCoors products use high fructose corn syrup. That is an ingredient of Anheuser-Busch's "Rita" series of fruit-flavored drinks, such as "Lime-a-Rita", which until the start of this year had "Bud Light" on its cans.

When it comes to corn, only a small percentage of the crop ends up in a beer mug, with the vast majority feeding livestock or producing the alternative fuel ethanol.

The usage of U.S. corn for sweeteners and alcoholic beverages will account for 1 billion bushels in 2018-19, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But it must be broken down further than that.

USDA projects that 390 million bushels of U.S. corn will be used this year in the production of glucose syrup and dextrose, which includes but is not limited to corn syrup. That is 2.6 percent of the 15 billion bushels of predicted corn usage, including exports.

Corn syrup is commonly used in products such as syrups, jams, jellies, and canned fruits and vegetables.

A record high 150 million bushels, or 1 percent of the total use, is scheduled for direct use in alcoholic beverage production, including spirits and liquors.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has become controversial over its linkage to a number of health problems, will use 460 million bushels of U.S. corn during 2018-19. This is down nearly 17 percent from peak usage 19 years ago, and flat on the year, according to USDA.

It is important to understand that corn syrup and HFCS are different products. The latter is manufactured by converting a large amount of the glucose to fructose using an enzymatic process, creating a sweeter, more cost-effective compound than corn syrup.

HFCS is used in a number of consumer products, including processed foods, breakfast cereals and sugary sodas.

Corn use in sweeteners and beverages falls into the Food, Seed & Industrial category on USDA’s balance sheet. Ethanol production accounts for about 80 percent of that category, using 5.6 billion bushels of corn.

TROUBLE FOR BUD LIGHT?

Bud Light could argue its Super Bowl spot is tit-for-tat. Since a revamp in 2014, Miller Lite has been busy telling drinkers it has more taste, fewer calories and half the carbs than its larger rival. In one commercial last year, with those words, a Bud Light slides across a bar, only to be overtaken by a Miller Lite in reaching a customer's hand.

Miller Lite indeed has fewer calories and half the carbs of a Bud Light, although Anheuser-Busch's newer Michelob Ultra just beats Miller Lite on both counts.

Following Sunday night’s advertisements, Twitter was alight with outrage from the U.S. corn industry. Many videos were posted of users pouring cans of Bud Light down the drain, and the National Corn Growers Association expressed disappointment with the beer maker.

The group represents growers of a crop that in 2017 was worth $49 billion using the average farm price of $3.36 per bushel from USDA. The value dwarfs the volume sales of Bud Light in the United States of $5.6 billion in 2017, according to a USA Today report.

Bud Light remains the most popular beer in America, taking 15.4 percent of market share in 2017, down slightly from the prior year. In 2015, drinking social app BARTENDr compiled data from its 700,000 users showing that Bud Light was the beer of choice in 33 of 50 U.S. states, including the top corn-growing state, Iowa.

Even before the Bud Light ad, corn farmers were not in the best of moods. U.S. corn prices have been tempered in recent years thanks to expanding competition from other producing countries.

From now on, it appears the growers will be drowning their sorrows in something other than Bud Light.

Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Dan Grebler

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