Anheuser-Busch bashed Corn Belt farmers Sunday night in one of its Super Bowl ads, and they are mad. 

Kevin Ross, the next president of the National Corn Growers, distributed a picture of himself pouring a can of Bud Light into a sink basin.

The ad promoted Bud light, saying it did not contain corn syrup that can be found in Miller Lite and Coors Lite, both of which Anheuser-Busch considers to be competition for Bud Light. 

The National Corn Growers Association expressed disappointment in such a move, applauding the Miller and Coors products and inviting Anheuser-Busch to discuss the many benefits of corn.

Ironically, other beers brewed by Anheuser-Busch are done so with corn syrup, including its namesake brands Busch and Busch Light. The company would not trash its own brand for a corn syrup ingredient, and the question arises, did the advertising agency responsible for the ad know of that potential conflict, and if not, why would a corporate marketing executive approve the ad. Was it a Hail Mary pass being launched in an effort to turn around an industry with declining sales over the past 20 years?

Anheuser-Busch may be pleased with the buzz that has been generated, hoping the ill-will may subside eventually. But in the meantime, hundreds of thousands of corn growers may have second thoughts about consuming a product that denigrates a product that puts money in their bank account.

But that probably is a small blip on the marketing radar screen. Consumer surveys likely said farmers will be mad and sales will be lost in the Heartland, but an anti-corn syrup message will resonate well among the urban elite, worried about their waistline and avoiding sweetener consumption.

But the ad likely made consumers wonder why corn syrup would even be used in the brewing of beer. It's just hops and barley, right? Well, almost. 

To create alcohol and the carbon dioxide that provides the carbonation, yeast is a necessity, and those little guys convert the corn sugar into alcohol. If the barley does not provide sufficient starch to create alcohol, a low-cost sugar is added in the form of corn syrup. Other brewers use rice to do the same thing.

How much did the commercial cost to produce and air?  There were seven digits behind the dollar sign, so Anheuser-Busch spent that amount to accuse its competitors of using a less costly product to make their beer. Corn farmers turned out to be collateral damage in that war.

And the Kevin Rosses of the Corn Belt who poured their can of Bud Light down the drain will do that, and their business will be lost, but Anheuser-Busch is not worried because there are more potential urban elite consumer targets than farmers who will change their buying habits.

As one farmer said, Anheuser-Busch knew that, and, “This is a demand drop in the mug, compared to lost exports from misbegotten trade policy.”

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Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.




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