Anheuser-Busch on Thursday claimed that rival MillerCoors had broken the law by stealing recipes for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra.
The accusations, including that an Anheuser-Busch employee took screenshots of secret beer recipes and smuggled them out, are contained in a 66-page legal filing in federal court in Wisconsin in response to a MillerCoors false advertising lawsuit over corn syrup claims in Super Bowl ads.
“We will enforce our right to uncover how high up this may reach in the MillerCoors organization,” Anheuser-Busch said in a statement.
MillerCoors said it respects trade secrets and called A-B’s claims a distraction. “Anheuser Busch has lost three major federal rulings in this case,” spokesman Adam Collins said in an email. “And now they are simply trying to distract from the basic fact that they intentionally misled American consumers.
“If the ingredients are a secret,” he continued, “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?”
Thursday’s claims were filed in response to a lawsuit that Chicago-based MillerCoors lodged against Anheuser-Busch after the company ran a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial taking aim at Miller Lite and other beers’ use of corn syrup. MillerCoors claims that Anheuser-Busch misled consumers by implying that corn syrup remains in the final product, rather than being consumed in the brewing process.
In Thursday’s counterclaim, Anheuser-Busch says a former employee now working for MillerCoors was texting questions about beer ingredients and methods to a current Anheuser-Busch employee.
It also implies that a former Anheuser-Busch employee shared confidential information from highly technical manuals that instruct brewery employees on how to combine those ingredients.
“The information ... includes precise recipes for brewing Bud Light and Michelob Ultra from February 2019. The information includes detailed Technical Manuals for some of the leading beer brands in the world that are treated by AB as limited access documents, labeled as confidential, and that contain precise instructions regarding how to brew AB beers,” the filing says.
The counterclaim says MillerCoors violated the federal Trade Secrets Act and similar laws in Wisconsin and Colorado, and seeks actual and punitive damages, as well as a judge’s order that would return any proprietary information.
Included in the filing are redacted copies of photographs of recipes for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra dated Feb. 2, the day before the Super Bowl aids aired, suggesting they had been “secreted out of the AB brewery,” the lawsuit says, and then texted to someone at Miller Coors.
The suit also contains redacted copies of text messages involving Joshua Edgar, a MillerCoors employee who had worked at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Cartersville, Georgia.
Shortly after the Super Bowl, Edgar sent a text message on behalf of MillerCoors senior management to a current Anheuser-Busch employee, asking about A-B ingredients and brewing processes, the lawsuit alleges.
“I got a few calls already from Corp folks asking about bud light, we must be prepping a retaliation,” the lawsuit quotes Edgar typing in a Feb. 4 message.
Anheuser-Busch investigators searched the phone and computer belonging to Edgar’s “source” at the Cartersville brewery showing other texts containing confidential information, the suit alleges.
St. Louis University Law Professor Yvette Liebesman, who teaches intellectual property law, said that to be successful, Anheuser-Busch has to show that MillerCoors took something of value from A-B and that it had made reasonable efforts to keep that information a secret.
She also said that former employees would likely be prohibited from disclosing confidential information in their new jobs.