Yogurt wars escalate as Dannon sues executive who jumped to Chobani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dannon Co on Wednesday sued a former high-level sales executive, accusing him of stealing confidential details about the company’s strategies and salary data for its employees before jumping to yogurt-making rival Chobani LLC.

Containers of Danone's Dannon Yogurt are displayed in a supermarket in New York City, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

According to a complaint filed in federal court in White Plains, New York, Federico Muyshondt stole trade secrets and other proprietary information, including “roadmaps of Dannon’s sales strategies for yogurt sales,” in the five months before his Jan. 16 resignation.

Muyshondt, of Mount Kisco, New York, had been a senior vice president handling sales in the eastern United States and to supermarket chain Kroger Co KR.N and resigned four days after receiving a "substantial six-figure bonus," Dannon said.

Muyshondt could not immediately be reached.

Chobani, based in Norwich, New York, is not a defendant. It did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit comes as Dannon, a White Plains-based unit of France's Danone SA DANO.PA, tries to recapture sales from Chobani, whose Greek yogurt has made it the top-selling brand in a shrinking $8.8 billion U.S. yogurt market.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction against using stolen materials.

Dannon alleged that Muyshondt began preparing for a possible move in August, after attending a seminar featuring Chobani’s chief operating officer.

Dannon said he later forwarded details about the company’s business plans to a personal email account, downloaded thousands of files, and swapped a SIM card that may have contained contact information for colleagues and customers out of a company-issued iPhone.

Dannon said the stolen information included non-compete agreements for some employees and email addresses for all Dannon employees connected with sales teams Muyshondt oversaw.

“It is inevitable that he will disclose the misappropriated information to Chobani, his new employer,” Dannon said.

“It would be virtually impossible for Muyshondt to occupy a high-level sales position at a direct competitor of Dannon without relying on the confidential and proprietary information he gained while employed in the same capacity by Dannon,” it added.

The case is Dannon Co v Muyshondt, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-01567.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler