An executive at the centre of a trade secrets lawsuit between Mars and JAB Holdings has claimed the legal action was revenge for him quitting the US-based confectioner, saying a board member “literally stamped on my foot” when he resigned.

Jacek Szarzynski, who joined the owner of Pret A Manger and Panera Bread last year, said Frank Mars had stamped on his foot and “warned me that the family would ensure that I would come to regret quitting”. 

“The Mars family reacts with brutality to any perceived slight . . . He said that I should tell my ‘new boss’ that Mars will never forgive him for taking people like me away from Mars and will do everything in its power to fight him back,” Mr Szarzynski added in a document filed to a Washington court.

Mr Szarzynski also alleged that another family member, Valerie Mars, had reacted to his resignation by telling him: “Brace yourself, you are entering the very dark world.”

He dismissed the legal action as “a vindictive, unnecessary, and improper attempt to smear my reputation and embarrass me and the business for which I now work”.

“It is my belief that this lawsuit has nothing to do with any genuine desire (or need) to protect Mars’ confidential information and everything to do with trying to punish me for leaving the Mars family,” Mr Szarzynski said.

The US company, which makes products from Mars and Snickers bars to Dolmio pasta sauces and Pedigree dog food, sued Luxembourg-based JAB in May, alleging that Mr Szarzynski had downloaded more than 6,000 internal documents from Mars as he prepared to leave, then passed some to his new employer.

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The lawsuit is a rare public battle between the two privately owned consumer goods groups, which compete in some lines of business — JAB has recently pushed into veterinary clinics, an area where Mars has a significant presence.

Mars wants the court to ban JAB from using the documents and force it to delete them, in addition to damages. JAB has previously called the claims “without legal merit” and said that “neither JAB nor Pret Panera has used or benefited in any way from any Mars information”.

Mr Szarzynski, a defendant in the lawsuit alongside JAB and Pret Panera, wants the dispute with him to be resolved through arbitration or the courts in Belgium, where he was based while working for them, rather than in Washington.

He has admitted taking the files but said it was because they were “intermingled” with personal files and included “the templates and formats in which I know how to do my work”. He said he and JAB offered six times to return the files and destroy all copies but “Mars has refused to take them back”.

However, Mars insists that litigation was a “last resort”.

“In fact, in an attempt to keep the settlement discussions open, we contacted JAB twice in the month before we filed the lawsuit and received no reply,” it said in a statement.

“Jacek Szarzynski downloaded thousands of confidential Mars documents reflecting valuable trade secrets and highly sensitive financial information,” it said in response to the latest claims. “He then passed along some of the confidential Mars documents to his new employer.”

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“Mr Szarzynski and JAB do not dispute these facts,” it added. “Their arguments are an attempt to divert attention from their wrongdoing and paint a misleading picture . . . We look forward to proceeding with this litigation and are confident we will be successful.”

Mr Szarzynski worked as global chief financial officer of Mars Petcare before leaving for JAB, where he is a partner and serves as chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Pret Panera. He is one of several former Mars executives now working at JAB.

Via Financial Times