KINGSTON — Bruce Gutterman claims to have no interest in financial gain from a lawsuit between one of the country’s largest food manufacturers and a food marketing firm; he just wants a little credit.
As the complex suit unfolds over who owns the rights to sell peanut butter-filled pretzels to the Trader Joe’s grocery store chain, Gutterman, 62, of Harveys Lake, said he is on the sidelines and that peanut butter pretzels were firstly his creation.
According to a lawsuit filed last month, Maxim Marketing Corp. is suing ConAgra Food Inc. and Trader Joe’s Co., all based in California, for breach of contract. Maxim alleges ConAgra violated agreements by cutting it out of the supply chain to sell peanut butter-filled pretzels to Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain.
Maxim claims it had hired ConAgra as a manufacturer and it had worked on good faith that the company would not undercut Maxim. ConAgra has since severed ties with Maxim and began selling directly to Trader Joe’s at a lower price than Maxim, according to the suit.
In addition to the breach of contract, Maxim has claimed it created the peanut butter-filled pretzel, which is one of its most successful snack foods, the suit says.
“In or about 1988, Maxim pioneered the development of peanut butter-filled pocket pretzels,” the plaintiff’s complaint said.
Here’s where Gutterman cries foul. And he is ready to back up his claim to fame, directing doubters to more than a dozen producers he has worked with over the years who know full-well he deserves that title, he said.
Maxim was Gutterman’s distributor when his recipe was first produced by the now-closed J. Reisman & Sons pretzels and hit the shelves under the label “Nutter Nuggets.”
He is credited with developing the recipe for pourable peanut butter, and for perfecting the way it is baked into pretzels.
Since one night in 1983, when an act of good will — returning a set of lost car keys to the Reisman pretzel factory owner — connected him with a man who could put his peanut butter recipe inside pretzels, Gutterman said food companies from around the country have called his little West Market Street office looking for the best way to put peanut butter into other foods.
“The one thing they all wanted in common was my peanut butter formulation,” Gutterman said.
He developed a filled pretzel for the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor Chubby Hubby, and he rattles off a long list of pretzel companies that all have dialed his number looking for the man with the recipe and the technique for stuffing pretzels full of peanut butter.
However, on the other side of the country, two warring corporations have neglected to credit Gutterman for his contributions, he said.
Gutterman has been in touch with Maxim attorneys, and he has been told he likely will be called as a factual witness. He plans to watch the case proceed from a front-row seat, but he wants everyone to know the peanut butter pretzel is without a doubt his own creation.
“The good news is, I’m glad peanut butter pretzels are loved,” Gutterman said. “That’s all I cared about.”