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Fight over peanut butter pretzels creates a legal jam for Trader Joe's

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A "peanut butter pretzel battle" sounds like it could be a Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor, but it's actually the legal wrangling over a favorite snack at Trader Joe's. 

In case you're not familiar with them, they're little nuggets of pretzels with a PB dollop baked right in. There's a fight over who invented them, who gets to make them for Trader Joe's and how TJ's own supply chain works.

The LA Business Journal's Alfred Lee tells this twisted story in which the snack is coming between a decades-long relationship between its original supplier and the store.

"There are two people who claim to have invented the peanut butter-filled pretzel, and they both told me it was very difficult to perfect the process," said Lee on Take Two. "There are a number of things that go into into it. The technology to make them didn't exist until the 1980s. There was this process called extrusion that is quite prevalent in the food industry today."

A company called Maxim claims that they were supplying Trader Joe's for some 25 years, before being cut out last year. They had been contracting with the manufacturer, which was bought up by a food giant, ConAgra. 

"They claim that at a certain point last year, ConAgra went behind their back and contracted directly with Trader Joe's," said Lee. "This kind of fits into what other people have said about Trader Joe's in the past, in terms of them dealing directly with suppliers as opposed to, essentially, middle men. That's one way that Trader Joe's is able to keep their cost so low."

Trader Joe's has not responded in court and also declined to be interviewed for the story. The company has a reputation for not talking to the press. ConAgra, which is also named in the suit, released a general statement saying that the lawsuit was without merit and that they would fight it, but did decline to comment further. 

So what will this fight mean for consumers? Not much, says Lee. 

"This is mostly a fight for who gets to supply these things to Trader Joe's, and kind of the drama behind the different claims to its inventions," said Lee. "I don't think there's any risk of these things being off the shelves soon, so you can rest assured."


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