Redacted court filings submitted by legal representatives for Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs have provided further details of the dispute between the US rapper and Diageo.
The documents set out allegations of the hoarding of agave, new products deemed to be racially insensitive and “sloppy” paperwork by the drinks giant that caused product hold-ups in Mexico.
The filings claim Diageo went ahead with the creation and marketing of a watermelon-flavoured variant of the DeLeon Tequila brand, despite Combs raising concerns, including that the product was racially insensitive, insisting he told the company about racial caricatures about Black people and the fruit had been historically made in the US and Europe.
Combs had raised the same concerns when Diageo wanted to develop a Ciroc vodka watermelon variant but, upon receiving assurances from the UK company, signed off on the flavour. However, Combs insists the Tequila watermelon SKU was developed without his knowledge and that he thought “DeLeon should not launch any flavor until the public learned more about the brand”.
In a statement responding to the allegations, Diageo said: “Mr Combs supported, publicly endorsed for several years, and benefited financially from the success of Ciroc Summer Watermelon. His attempt to recast follow-up discussions regarding innovations for DeLeon is, as is his entire suit, disingenuous and self-serving.”
Combs went public with his plans to sue the spirits giant in May. In court filings in New York, the artist accused Diageo of racism and intentionally sabotaging the DeLeon Tequila brand.
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He claimed his Tequila product – purchased as a 50-50 joint venture with (and funded by) Diageo in 2013 – was treated differently by the company and given less priority than other celebrity-backed brands because he is Black.
Sourcing and distribution form part of Diddy claims against Diageo
Combs’ legal team claims that, during the 2020 agave shortage, Diageo was intentionally “allocating its existing supply of agave to competing Tequila brands, forcing DeLeon to scramble to source agave from the spot market at significantly higher costs.”
A further claim is made that Diageo planned in 2021 for none of the agave grown over the following five to six years to be provided to DeLeon.
The documents also state Diageo reassigned thirteen people from the DeLeon bottling plant in Mexico to work on other Diageo products. This was allegedly done without seeking approval from Combs Wine or the DeLeon board of directors.
It is also alleged Diageo changed the “distribution approach” for the Ciroc and DeLeon brands without board approval, affecting sales targets. Combs’ team also claimed Diageo senior sales executives have admitted there were “no sales incentives for Ciroc or DeLeon since 2017” and that “senior salespeople at Diageo have admitted to long stretches where they made no attempt to sell DeLeon.”
The newly cleared filings also allege that “in 2020, Combs Wines was informed that DeLeon was on track to be out of stock during the busiest time of the year – a potential death knell for even established brands”.
Combs’ team claims to have an internal Diageo presentation that describes Ciroc as an “urban African American brand tied to one personality”. Diddy’s representatives also say they have another internal Diageo document that characterised Combs and Ciroc as having “strong hip hop associations”.
Diageo has denied all allegations and claims it is a “bad faith, sham action”. It argues Combs is using racial-based allegations to make further billions from his former partnership with the spirits giant.
John Hueston, Combs’ attorney said this week: “These newly revealed allegations show the legitimacy and seriousness of Mr. Combs’ concerns about Diageo’s systemic mistreatment of the DeLeon brand.
“Rather than treat DeLeon equally, as required by contract, Diageo ignored Mr. Combs’ global appeal and inappropriately pigeon-holed his brands as ‘urban’. The allegations reveal that Diageo’s approach has resulted in repeated mismanagement of production, insufficient distribution, and non-existent sales support.”