Grillo's Lawsuit Claims Former Pickle Packer Stole Its Secret Recipe

Grillo's says pickles sold under Whole Foods' 365 brand were nearly identical to its own.

<p>The Image Party / Shutterstock</p>

The Image Party / Shutterstock

A New Jersey pickle company has gotten itself in, well, a legal pickle after being accused of stealing proprietary secrets from another pickle-maker. Grillo’s Pickles has filed a complaint against Patriot Pickle alleging that Patriot had access to Grillo’s recipe while it worked as a co-packer for Grillo’s pickles, and it’s now using both Grillo’s process and recipe to make its own line of pickles.

According to the legal filing, when Grillo’s brought Patriot on as a co-packer to help manufacture, package, and ship Grillo’s pickles, the two companies signed a mutual nondisclosure agreement. By signing that document, Patriot said it would “maintain in trust and confidence and not disclose to any third party or use for any unauthorized purpose any” of Grillo’s pickle-making secrets.

In 2021, Grillo’s chose to stop using Patriot to pack its pickles. In May, Patriot started producing several kinds of refrigerated pickles for Whole Foods’ own 365 by Whole Foods brand — and Grillo’s alleges that the pickles are rip-offs of its own products. In the complaint, Grillo’s writes that the 365-branded pickles “list identical ingredients and nearly identical nutrition facts as Grillo’s.” They are also around 30% cheaper than Grillo’s pickles, which are also sold at Whole Foods.

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“In short, Patriot’s use of recipes and processes stolen from Grillo’s to roll out a nearly identically formulated line of pickles nationwide at one of Grillo’s biggest retailers, at a lower price point, and during the highest grossing time of years for pickle sales, threatens to cripple Grillo’s business and customer base irreparably,” the complaint reads. “ It urgently must be stopped.”

Whole Foods sold refrigerated pickles well before adding Patriot Pickles to its shelves, but its previous pickles were packed by Hermann Pickles. (You know you want to try to read that sentence as fast as you can.) Grillo’s complaint alleges that Hermann Pickles had a different “formula and packaging.”

"Patriot Pickle is trying to profit off of Grillo's 100-year-old family recipe and our trade secrets," Adam Kaufman, the President of Grillo's Pickles, said in a statement. "It's a massive violation of trust and a disappointment that after nearly a decade of partnership, our former co-packer, Patriot Pickle, has violated our agreements and is producing a nearly identical line of pickles for one of our biggest retailers, threatening to permanently damage our business."

Earlier this year, Grillo’s sued Patriot Pickle and ARKK Food Company over the pickles that were produced for the Wahlburgers brand. In that lawsuit, Grillo’s alleged that consumers were being misled by the claims that Wahlburgers pickles were “fresh,” “all natural,” and free from preservatives.

Grillo’s said that it conducted chemical tests of Wahlburgers pickles and discovered that they contained “considerable amounts of benzoic acid which is often added into foods via sodium benzoate,” a food preservative that was not listed on the pickles’ labels. (In that lawsuit, Grillo’s also alleged that Wahlburgers pickles had a “near identical taste to Grillo's.”)

In its most recent complaint, Grillo’s is asking for emergency injunctive relief (which would put at least a temporary stop on Patriot’s pickle production), as well as a permanent injunction and damages.

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