MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a lower court’s ruling in favor of brewing giant Molson Coors, determining that Anheuser-Busch can advertise and use packaging implying that its rival beers contain corn syrup.
The order from a three-judge panel on the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals overturns a federal judge’s ruling from September in Wisconsin. The judge had ordered Anheuser-Busch, which makes Bud Light, to stop making the corn syrup claims about Miller Lite and other Molson Coors products.
“If Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch’s ads, it can mock Bud Light in return,” the appeals court ruled. “Litigation should not be a substitute for competition in the market.”
Molson Coors sued its rival in March 2019, saying Anheuser-Busch had spent as much as $30 million on a “false and misleading” campaign, including Super Bowl ads that showed Bud Light knights delivering a barrel of corn syrup to a Miller Lite castle. Cardboard packaging on Bud Light six-packs, 12-packs and 24-packs said “No Corn Syrup” in bold letters and invited customers to visit a web site where it lists its ingredients. Bud Light is brewed with water, barley, rice and hops.
Molson Coors uses corn syrup in the fermentation process for Miller Lite and Coors Lite, but the final product doesn’t contain corn syrup. It argued Anheuser-Busch’s campaign is false, illegal and bad for the industry.
The appeals court said it was up to consumers to decide what is best.
“By choosing a word such as ‘ingredients’ with multiple potential meanings, Molson Coors brought this problem on itself,” the appeals court said. “It is enough for us to hold that it is not ‘false or misleading’ for a seller to say or imply, of a business rival, something that the rival says about itself.”
Whether that “something” is good or bad “is for consumers rather than the judiciary to decide,” the court said.
Anheuser-Busch said in a statement that it was pleased with the decision.
“We have said since the beginning that this lawsuit brought by Molson Coors is baseless,” the company said. “Right now our focus is on supporting our employees, our communities, and our business partners during this unprecedented crisis.”
Molson Coors spokesman Martin Maloney said the brewer was disappointed with the ruling.
“We are exploring our options to continue holding Anheuser-Busch accountable,” he said.
Ironically, Anheuser-Busch, which is owned by Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, brews some of its beers — including Natural Light, Busch Light and Rolling Rock — with corn syrup. Molson Coors brews many of its beers without corn syrup, including Blue Moon Belgian White and Pilsner Urquell.