ConAgra has accused agrifood giant ADM of infringing a patent covering technology enabling it to produce high fiber whole wheat flour with the palatability and appeal of refined white flour.
In a complaint filed in Kansas, ConAgra Foods Food Ingredients Company claims ADM’s Kansas Diamond White Whole Wheat Flour infringes a patent it was awarded on September 13, 2011.
The patent, US #8,017,172, is entitled ‘Whole Grain Flour and Products Including the Same’, and covers refined flour capable of meeting the definition of ‘whole wheat flour’.
It says: “In the late 1990s, ConAgra’s leading food scientists and grain millers attempted to develop nutritious, high fiber whole wheat food products with the palatable appeal and popularity of refined, or white, flour that draw a large segment of ConAgra’s customers.”
Years of testing, development and technological improvement
It adds: “Further, ConAgra sought to develop refined flour capable of meeting the definition of ‘whole wheat flour’.
“Through years of testing, development, and technological improvement of its state-of-the-art flour mills, ConAgra succeeded in milling a whole grain not only retaining its traditional nutrients and benefits, but also containing the texture, taste, and finished baked qualities of refined flour.
“To preserve this new innovation… ConAgra promptly sought patent protection.”
While ConAgra had emailed ADM on September 22, 2011 informing it of the ‘172 patent and offering to engage in a licensing arrangement, ADM had continued to sell white whole wheat products that infringed the patent, says the complaint.
A light colored yet fiber and protein rich flour
ConAgra, which is represented by legal firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, is seeking a jury trial, damages and an injunction to prevent ADM from selling the allegedly infringing products.
According to ADM’s website, Kansas Diamond White Whole Wheat Flour is prepared by "carefully selecting and milling hard white wheats to ensure that the process yields a light-colored, yet fiber- and protein-rich flour with microfine particles that produce a smooth, pleasing mouth feel”.
The resulting product conforms to the US Standard of Identity for whole wheat flour.
ADM: We geberally don't comment on litgation
Omaha-based ConAgra Foods is one of the biggest food companies in the US and is organized into two businesses: Consumer Foods, which sells grocery brands such as Healthy Choice and Egg Beaters; and Commercial Foods, which supplies specialty products to foodservice and manufacturing customers including frozen potato products, flours and Spicetec flavors and seasonings.
Decatur, Illinois-based agrifood giant ADM is even bigger, and makes a vast range of products from soybean oil to starch, glucose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, wheat flour and cocoa liquor.
An ADM spokeswoman said: "We generally don’t comment on litigation."