North Carolina

Former employee stole recipes from creator of Duke’s mayonnaise, lawsuit claims

A former vice president for Duke’s Foods allegedly stole secret recipes from the sandwich spread company founded by the woman who created the legendary mayonnaise, a federal lawsuit claims.

Eugenia Duke founded the company a century ago, and Duke Foods still makes spreads like pimento cheese along with salsas, dips and desserts in the South Carolina Upstate. The founder sold the mayo recipe and the sandwich businesses to separate companies in 1929.

The lawsuit claims Wyatt Howard, former Duke Foods vice president of sales, stole secret recipes and other trade secrets like pricing and formulas when the company fired him in May. He went to work for a competing sandwich company, Knott’s Foods, according to the lawsuit.

McClatchy newsgroup reached out to Knott’s Fine Foods for comment on the lawsuit Wednesday morning. The company does not have an attorney listed with the federal court.

The court filing says Howard emailed some of the information to himself and saved other trade secrets to his personal laptop that he used for work.

The lawsuit says Tennessee-based Knott’s Wholesale Foods Inc., which goes by Knott’s Fine Foods, is trying to use Duke’s proprietary information “in an effort to gain a competitive advantage and attract current Duke Foods’ customers to Knott’s Fine Foods.”

Duke’s wants an injunction to stop Howard and Knott’s from using its trade secrets and damages.

Eugenia Duke got her start in 1917 to feed soldiers serving during World War I outside Greenville, South Carolina, according to the company. In 1929, she sold the mayo recipe to C.F. Sauer and the sandwich business to her former bookkeeper.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.