On The Corn Syrup Wars of 2019, GMOs, and Consumer Attitudes Towards Ag (Opinion)
SETUP: What do Roger Goodell, the New England Patriots, and (apparently) corn syrup all have in common?
PUNCHLINE :EVERYBODY IN AMERICA HATES THEM!
:Raucous laughter: (okay, maybe not exactly RAUCOUS, but we’ll take what we can get…)
What’s that you say, CropLife Reader?
Don’t quit my day job?
Duly noted 😉
By now, you’ve likely caught onto where this is going.
Yes, your resident writer-that-lives-to-shoehorn-random-NFL-references-into-agribusiness-subject-matter is of course referring to 2019’s Corniest Controversy: last week’s Corn Syrup Wars, sparked by this ad that Bud Light brewers AB/InBev foisted upon our unprepared nation: (I mean, who saw this coming, or even becoming a thing, in the lead up to the game?)
My colleagues Eric Sfiligoj (himself a veteran of the beverage industry) and Paul Schrimpf did a masterful commentary on the ad and the subsequent responses coming from all corners of the ag industry, led by the folks in St. Louis at the National Corn Growers Association, in this week’s Retail Week (hopefully those guys left the obnoxious “Dilly Dilly!” chants on the cutting room floor) episode, with Paul presenting his theory that there was perhaps a slight hint of anti-corporate sentiment in the spots, and I’d have to agree with Paul there.
And yet, just yesterday AB/InBev billboards were reportedly spotted adjacent to the interstate throughout the greater Cleveland area, signaling a doubling down from the folks at Bud Light on the criticism of Coors and Miller Lite again for using corn syrup (a different formulation entirely from the much more vilified high fructose corn syrup, it should be noted) in its light beer.
While like Paul I can also see the anti-BIG BEER ethos in the spot (paid for and produced by BIG BEER, with one BIG BEER Brand slamming two others – pretty ironic, right?), for me the question now is simply, where does this all go from here?
Clearly, there has been some resonance among consumers with this particular commercial spot and the issue it highlights, which is transparency in the ingredients that make up our food and drink. GMO ingredient labeling was an issue this industry fought tooth-and-nail in my early days, having since seemingly toned down the offensive in the name of appeasing consumers.
I just can’t help but wonder if the now infamous Corn Syrup War sparked that forgettable night of really, really bad professional football is a mere introductory Trojan Horse for the direction I expect AB/InBev to take this thing, and that’s the avenue we in ag all know so well: The anti-GMO route.
Although they stepped ever so lightly around the issue in those first spots, the implication for anybody that knows anything about corn was there: those guys use that mass produced, processed corn stuff in their beers, and we at Bud Light, we don’t.
*Caveman Voice* CORN BAD, RICE GOOD! (grunts, scratches self, grabs club and leaves cave to hunt pterodactyl)
How long will it take the ad execs at AB/InBev, or whatever snooty, Birkenstock-staffed creative agency they hired to produce these spots, to draw the connection between corn syrup, Big Ag, and that dastardly GMO corn?
Not long, I would think.
We already know consumer attitudes toward genetically modified crops as it stands today, with plenty of surveys out there for concerned mothers and Facebook aunts to cherry pick from, like the one linked above where 46% of consumers say they avoid products containing GMOs at all costs.
I guess what I am saying is, with what we know about consumer sentiment around GMOs, and our experiences in the early days of the GMO labeling debate, maybe we should have seen this one coming? Also, how is Bud Light the first beer to label its ingredients? That fact alone is mind-blowing (or mind-numbing, depending on your threshold for nonsense)…
In the end, though, I think there are two points I’d like to leave readers with (and agree or disagree we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comnentc below):
One, if you’re consuming mass-produced light beer on a regular basis, I’m pretty sure who adjuncts (that’s a fancy brewing term for adding ingredients to beer that are not in the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516) corn syrup vs. rice syrup should maybe be the least of your worries? I mean, light beer when consumed in moderation has a slightly redeeming nutrition profile – there’s some protein in there, and some fiber and carbs for energy, I think – but it’s not exactly a super-food. I think it’s safe to say that it’s already inherently bad for your health, corn or rice or hop syrup, or perhaps all the above, be damned.
Secondly, I think this should serve as yet another wake up call for the ag industry in general, that these attacks against what we grow, how we grow it, and how it ends up in our food supply can and will continue to come from any and all angles, at any time. Consumers today simply demand a level of transparency and clairvoyance in our food system that must be met by food processors and distributors and farmers, pretty much every step of the chain needs to be on board, or people start getting called onto the carpet like Bud Light has done with Miller/Coors…
I’ve been at this ag thing for going on seven years now, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with some of the very brightest people in this industry and heard the same thing, over and over again: We’ve got to find a better way to tell our story, and be honest, and transparent, so it resonates with consumers.
Perhaps 2019’s Corn Syrup Wars are just another one of those opportunities…