Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD) has accused MillerCoors, part of the Molson Coors Brewing Co. (NYSE: TAP), of obtaining “misappropriated trade secrets” in an ongoing federal lawsuit. MillerCoors apparently acquired full recipes and a technical manual for making Bud Light and Michelob Ultra brews from an employee that worked at Anheuser-Busch’s Cartersville, Ga. brewery. According to Anheuser-Busch, that employee “is no longer with the company.”
The complaint alleges that the scheme to obtain the recipe details came all the way from MillerCoors’ senior management. Anheuser-Busch is seeking an injunction to prevent MillersCoors from “accessing, using or disclosing” the recipes. Anheuser-Busch is also seeking damages from MillerCoors.
It is believed that MillerCoors wanted the recipes to uncover damaging information to use in a retaliatory ad campaign against Anheuser-Busch. Last February, Anheuser-Busch released a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial that claimed that Miller Lite and Coors Light were made with corn syrup. Anheuser-Busch also started adding the label “No Corn Syrup” on its Bud Light packaging.
MillerCoors sued in March, filing a false advertising lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch in federal court in Madison, Wis. Last month, by a Wisconsin federal judge ruled that Anheuser-Busch must stop using the labels after previously ruling that the company must suspend certain TV, billboard and print advertising that suggested Miller Lite and Coors light contained corn syrup. Anheuser-Busch is appealing that ruling.
MillerCoors spokesman Adam Collins issued a statement saying, “MillerCoors respects confidential information and 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?”
Bud Light and Michelob Ultra are two of the most popular beers in America. Brewing those types of beers is technologically advanced, so companies tend to keep the processes and recipes close to the vest. Knowing how a rival makes its brews could be very valuable to a leading brewing company.