KANSAS CITY — Punches and counterpunches continue to be thrown in the ongoing Bud Light versus Miller Lite and Coors Light corn syrup case, with the latest a filing by Anheuser-Busch Companies, L.L.C., accusing MillerCoors, L.L.C. of misappropriating Anheuser-Busch trade secrets to get ingredient information.
In an Oct. 17 filing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Anheuser-Busch responded to several claims or accusations made in earlier court filings by MillerCoors, including defense of its 2019 Super Bowl commercials (and others) stating its Bud Light brand was brewed with no corn syrup, unlike Coors Light and Miller Lite.
Significantly, Anheuser-Busch in its latest filing accuses MillerCoors of obtaining proprietary information, or trade secrets, including recipes and technical manuals used in making “its most popular beers.” The highly redacted copy of the court filing names several MillerCoors employees Anheuser-Busch claims were involved in acquiring proprietary brewing information from Anheuser-Busch, including two MillerCoors employees who were former Anheuser-Busch employees that had access to such information. The effort was an attempt to find detailed information about Bud Light ingredients, the court filing said.
“Today, we filed in Federal Court claims alleging that MillerCoors violated state and federal law by misappropriating our trade secrets, including our beer recipes,” Anheuser-Busch said in the Oct. 17 filing. “We will enforce our right to uncover how high up this may reach in the MillerCoors organization. We take our trade secrets seriously and will protect them to the fullest extent of the law.”
In the filing, Anheuser-Busch said it conducted and was continuing an internal investigation, led by its compliance department and outside counsel, into breaches of confidentiality, citing emails between some of the parties involved.
The overall case involves Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light ad campaign that noted the use of corn syrup by MillerCoors in brewing Coors Light and Miller Lite but not by Anheuser-Busch in making Bud Light in commercials that initially aired Feb. 3 during Super Bowl LIII, along with certain later advertising. The Super Bowl ads generated significant pro and con traffic on social media and drew the ire of corn growers and the corn sweetener industry, although Anheuser-Busch maintains it did nothing to disparage corn syrup in its ads.
MillerCoors filed a lawsuit on March 21, claiming false and misleading claims and misuse of Miller and Coors trademarks in a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial and in part sought an injunction to stop Anheuser-Busch from running the Bud Light ad. Anheuser-Busch subsequently filed a motion for dismissal of MillerCoors’ lawsuit, which was denied.
On May 24 Judge William M. Conley issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Anheuser-Busch from using “misleading advertising to suggest that corn syrup is in plaintiff’s Miller Lite and Coors Light beers, including emphasizing that corn syrup is not in its Bud Light beer.” On Sept. 4 Judge Conley modified the May 24 preliminary injunction limiting the use of “no corn syrup” in Bud Light advertisements to include packaging.
In part, Anheuser-Busch claims its advertisements were accurate and it was not seeking to mislead consumers about the use of corn syrup but rather was attempting to increase ingredient transparency. In the Oct. 17 court document, Anheuser-Busch further states corn syrup is in fact an ingredient in Miller Lite and Coors Light because “the degree of fermentation of MillerCoor’s corn syrup ingredient is less than 100%,” thus some corn syrup sugars remain in the finished Miller Lite and Coors Light beers, despite MillerCoors’ claims that corn syrup is just a “fermentation adjunct” and is not present in the final product.
The filing also states that corn syrup is used by MillerCoors as well as by Anheuser-Busch in some of its “value products” because it is less expensive relative to rice used in Bud Light.
In its Oct. 17 filing, Anheuser-Busch in part seeks judgment against MillerCoors and that “MillerCoors be preliminarily and permanently enjoined and restrained from accessing, using or disclosing the A.B. confidential company information and property that it acquired as a result of its intentional interference, including A.B. recipes, technical manuals, policies and procedures, and brewing training materials, together with all information relating thereto;” that “MillerCoors be preliminarily and permanently enjoined and restrained from communicating with current or former A.B. employees for the purpose of requesting or discussing confidential A.B. company information and property until entry of the Court’s final judgement;” that “MillerCoors be ordered to immediately return to A.B. any confidential or trade secret information of A.B., and all copies thereof, in whatever form stored or maintained, and to remove all copies from its possession;” in addition to actual damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and other relief that the court deems fair and reasonable.
Further, the Anheuser-Busch filing “demands trial by jury.”