Anheuser-Busch InBev SA unit Anheuser-Busch Cos. LLC is now accusing rival MillerCoors LLC of stealing its beer recipes months after AB InBev was ordered to stop showing ads that suggest MillerCoors' beers contain syrup.
In a redacted counterclaim filed Oct. 17 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Anheuser-Busch said Molson Coors Brewing Co.-owned MillerCoors obtained information about its recipes for beers such as the Michelob Ultra and Bud Light through a MillerCoors employee in Colorado, who previously worked for Anheuser-Busch in Cartersville, Ga.
The employee allegedly continued to maintain relationships with current Anheuser-Busch employees at the Cartersville brewery and asked one of these workers for information related to ingredients Anheuser-Busch uses for its beers, including the use of enzymes in Bud Light.
Anheuser-Bush also alleged that MillerCoors's senior management specifically asked for the information from the employee and that MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley was included in email chains about the employees' discoveries.
The company is demanding a trial by jury, and is asking the court to "preliminarily and permanently" restrain MillerCoors from communicating with current or former Anheuser-Busch employees "for the purpose of requesting or discussing confidential [Anheuser-Busch] company information."
It is also asking the court to order MillerCoors "to immediately return" any confidential or trade secret information of Anheuser-Busch that it allegedly obtained. The brewer is also seeking actual and punitive damages.
In a statement to S&P Global Market Intelligence, MillerCoors Vice President for Communications and Community Affairs Adam Collins said MillerCoors respects confidential information and that the company takes any contrary allegations seriously.
"But if the ingredients are a secret, why did they spend tens of millions of dollars telling the entire world what's in Bud Light? And why are the ingredients printed on Bud Light's packaging in giant letters?," Collins said. "Anheuser-Busch has lost three major federal rulings in this case and now they are simply trying to distract from the basic fact that they intentionally misled American consumers."
The counterclaim was lodged after a federal judge in Wisconsin banned Anheuser-Busch from putting a "no corn syrup" label on its beers. The decision came after MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch of airing misleading advertisements that led customers to believe there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light.
In its recent court filing, Anheuser-Busch said it continues to believe that MillerCoors is not entitled to any relief it requested in its previous complaint about Anheuser-Busch's corn syrup ads.
"As for their tired claims about corn syrup, the same residual elements they are talking about are also found in Bud Light and Michelob Ultra. If this is their argument, it’s no wonder they have lost three rulings in this case already," Collins added.