Pickle wars (round 2): Grillo’s sues Whole Foods own brand for allegedly stealing recipe

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Pickle wars (round 2): Grillo’s sues Whole Foods own brand for allegedly stealing recipe

Related tags Grillo's Pickles Patriot Pickle Whole foods Lawsuit cucumbers Fermentation

Litigation addiction is a real thing, but just as Prince Harry has scores to settle, so does Grillo’s Pickles, this time alleging that Patriot Pickle ‘stole’ their beloved proprietary recipes for a line of Whole Food-branded pickles.

A mere six months after its last court date, Boston-based Grillo’s is again in the hot seat, this time suing Patriot Pickle, Inc. for allegedly profiteering from trade secret information.

In the lawsuit filed in Florida under the Defend Trade Secrets Act and Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act, Grillo’s claims Patriot has violated a contract and used its access to Grillo’s recipes and equipment to create a line of pickles under the Whole Foods 365 brand.

Grillo’s alleges the ingredients are identical to its own pickle line, with organic acid profile tests proving Patriot’s use and disclosure of Grillo’s trade secrets.

Duping customers

Gherkin illustration Getty
Pic: GettyImages

In January, Grillo’s was in court with a suit against Wahlburgers​ for falsely advertising its pickles as ‘fresh,’ ‘all-natural’ and containing ‘no preservatives.’

Cleopatra Getty
Pic: GettyImages

Pickles date back to around 2030 BC in Mesopotamia, when inhabitant from northern India brought cucumber seeds to the Tigris valley. Cucumbers became a popular snack for the marauding Romans, pickled for the journey in vinegar, oil, brine and sometimes honey. Legendary Egyptian queen Cleopatra attributed them to her go-to beauty secret, while Aristotle praised their healing effects.

Again, Grillo underscored its suit with lab tests that allegedly showed Wahlburger’s products contained ‘considerable amounts of benzoic acid’, a chemical preservative often used to preserve foods with an acidic pH.

At the time, Adam Kaufman - who took over the helm as president from founder Travis Grillo following the company’s sale to King’s Hawaiian - said, “In positioning its products as ‘fresh’ and containing ‘no preservatives’, our competitor is effectively duping consumers and retailers, especially those who are actively seeking all-natural food products with clean labels.”

​Massive violation of trust

Of the new case, Kaufman said, “Patriot Pickle is trying to profit off of Grillo’s 100-year-old family recipe and our trade secrets.

“It’s a massive violation of trust and a disappointment that after nearly a decade of partnership, our former co-packer 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.”

He added the alleged use of Grillo’s recipes to produce a line of own brand pickles for Whole Foods “threatens to cripple Grillo’s business and customer base irreparably”.

Whole Foods is one of Grillo’s biggest retailers; the Whole Foods 365 branded line of pickles comes in at a lower price point; and this is the highest grossing time of year for pickle sales.

As such, Grillo’s is asking the court for emergency injunctive relief in addition to a permanent injunction and damages.

“Customers choose Grillo’s because they know that when they purchase Grillo’s pickles, they are purchasing fresh pickles free from artificial preservatives … made with simple, real and garden-fresh ingredients,” ​added the company.

Pickles Getty
Pic: GettyImages

Grillo’s was founded in 2008 by Travis Grillo, an art school grad who, after being rejected as a designer by Nike, turned his hand to making pickles from a family recipe and selling them for a dollar from a hand-built wooden cart on the streets of Boston.

The company has since grown into a national brand, with a footprint in retailers like Whole Foods, Target, Costco, Publix, Kroger, Safeway and Amazon; an array of other mass and natural grocers; and an online presence through Instacart, Peapod, Target and Amazon Fresh.

The product mix​ has also expanded to include hot pickles, spears and chips, cold-pressed pickle vinegar drinks and a pickle de gallo dip.

Grillo’s was a trailblazer in the fermented category, which has also subsequently exploded: think sourdough, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha …

Grillo’s, though, has remained on trend with its irrelevant sense of humour, forming collabs to produce everything from pickle-infused beer to pickle packaging, clothing and other merch.

It also stepped up to the plate as the official pickle of the Boston Red Sox in 2022, with a pickle stand at Fenway Park selling 2-for-$1 dill pickle spears and other pickled-inspired snacks between innings.

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