Anheuser-Busch InBev accuses MillerCoors of stealing trade secrets
The legal battle between Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors has escalated again. In a new court filing, AB InBev alleges that its competitor attempted to obtain trade secrets, including details on how Bud Light and Michelob Ultra are made, through illegal means.
The filing Thursday in a federal court in Wisconsin was made as a counterclaim to MillerCoors' false advertising suit, originally filed in March, which took issue with Bud Light advertising that has suggested Miller Lite and Coors Light are made with corn syrup.
AB InBev charges that former employees now working at MillerCoors sought confidential information from former AB InBev colleagues, including about technical brewing procedures that extend beyond basic ingredients. The heavily redacted filing states that AB InBev considers the detailed brewing recipe specifications “to be highly confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information.”
“We will enforce our right to uncover how high up this may reach in the MillerCoors organization,” AB InBev said in a statement. "We take our trade secrets seriously and will protect them to the fullest extent of the law.”
But the legal maneuver of protecting trade secrets puts AB InBev in a tricky situation that is potentially at odds with its advertising and communications strategy. AB InBev has stressed that it only uses uses water, barley, rice and hops in Bud Light and says its jabs at its rival are just a call for “transparency” about ingredients used in the beer industry. In a statement, MillerCoors pounced on the paradox.
“MillerCoors respects confidential information and takes any contrary allegations seriously, but if the ingredients are a secret, why did [AB InBev] spend tens of millions of dollars telling the entire world what’s in Bud Light?” said Adam Collins, MillerCoors’ VP of communications and community affairs.
Bud Light’s ad claims first appeared in the Super Bowl. MillerCoors has responded by saying Miller Lite and Coors Light use corn syrup during the fermenting process, but that none of it ends up in the final product.
Thursday’s back-and-forth shows that both brewers are digging in their heels in what has become known as “corngate.” As trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights observed: “Any thought that this messy battle between [the] top two brewers could go away soon probably should go out the window. Indeed, this battle got even more serious, including a new AB investigation.”