Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of Budweiser, Michelob and Busch beers, is suing rival company MillerCoors, alleging in federal court this week that an Anheuser-Busch employee had leaked product recipe information.
Court documents filed Thursday include descriptions of a text message exchange earlier this year between an Anheuser-Busch worker and a MillerCoors employee who had formerly worked for Anheuser-Busch and was seeking recipe information for Busch Light and Bud Light.
"How much enzyme u adding to Bud Light?" the MillerCoors employee allegedly texted the Anheuser-Busch employee.
Anheuser-Busch officials said the company launched an internal investigation and found that the company's employee had shared information about the company's beer ingredients, the court documents state. The employee also shared specifics about the brewing process, the layout of a brewery control room and Anheuser-Busch marketing plans, the documents state.
Anheuser-Busch employees overseeing the brewing process sign a confidentiality agreement that includes a promise not to share ingredients even after a person has left the company, the company's lawsuit says. The MillerCoors worker knew the Anheuser-Busch employee was sharing recipe details even though the person allegedly was under the agreement, Anheuser-Busch claims.
Anheuser-Busch officials say they're trying to determine how widely their recipe has been shared.
"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 a statement. "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 response, MillerCoors said Anheuser-Busch's ingredients aren't as secret as the company contends. The ingredients for Bud Light, for example, are accessible for anyone who buys a can, one official said.
"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?" MillerCoors spokesman Adam Collins said in a statement.
The base ingredients for beer are a combination of yeast, water, hops and barley grains. Hops — both the kind and the amounts used — give each beer its distinct flavor, while grain gives a brew its color, aroma and part of its flavor.
Anheuser-Busch's suit is the latest chapter in an ongoing legal fight between two of America's most recognized brewing companies. The battle began in February when a Super Bowl ad for Bud Light accused Miller Lite of being brewed with corn syrup. MillerCoors responded with a full-page New York Times ad that playfully read, in part, "It's unfortunate that our competitor's Big Game ad created an unnecessary corntroversy."
"However, we thank them for starting this conversation on such a big stage because it allows us to clarify the truth," the newspaper ad stated.
MillerCoors went on to explain that the corn syrup is used in fermentation, which is a common practice among brewers both large and small.
"To be clear, corn syrup is a normal part of the brewing process and does not even end up in your great tasting can of Miller Lite," the ad read.
A Wisconsin judge in March barred Anheuser-Busch from running ads that suggest Miller Lite and Coors Lite contain corn syrup. The judge then denied Anheuser-Busch's motion to dismiss the case entirely.
Finally, last month, a federal judge told Anheuser-Busch to remove the words "No Corn Syrup" from its labeling.
"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," Collins, the MillerCoors spokesman, said in his statement. "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."