ILNews

Kraft wins in food fight with Cracker Barrel

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Indiana Lawyer Focus

A federal appeals court ruled recently that savvy consumers might be confused if food branded Cracker Barrel Old Country Store was sold in grocery stores that carry Kraft’s Cracker Barrel brand cheese. Turns out even a law professor who teaches a course on trademarks and unfair competition might be fooled.

“When I thought of that cheese in the store, that’s what I would have thought of,” Notre Dame School of Law professor and associate dean Mark McKenna said. “In my mind at least, I associate the Cracker Barrel mark much more with the restaurant.”

wilson Warr

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 14 affirmed an Illinois District Court’s temporary injunction won by Kraft Foods, which claimed that allowing the restaurant chain’s branded hams and other foods to be sold in groceries would confuse consumers familiar with Kraft’s Cracker Barrel cheese trademark.

“In some respects, the case is an application of some pretty standard principles of trademark law,” McKenna said. “What’s different about this case is you have longstanding mutual use of trademarks in different areas.”

Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft sued the Tennessee-based restaurant chain in Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., et al., 13-2559. The restaurant is free to sell its branded food items in its establishments, but Kraft has a trademark to defend when both items are sold in the same stores, the 7th Circuit held.The lawsuit against Cracker Barrel was filed after the restaurant began selling hams under license to a few groceries, but the opinion notes those sales stopped after Kraft sued.

Daniel P. Albers of Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Chicago represented Cracker Barrel and said he couldn’t discuss what the company might do after the ruling. “Cracker Barrel is disappointed with the ruling but pleased the court supports the sale of its product through its old country stores, mail order and online,” he said.

The restaurant has been doing that for years without challenge from Kraft. Albers said Kraft also has stipulated as part of this litigation that it has no objection to the restaurant selling items in grocery stores using its distinctive silhouette logo of Uncle Herschel in a rocking chair with the wording modified to “CB Old Country Store.”

New York attorney Barbara Solomon of Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu P.C. represented Kraft at oral arguments before the 7th Circuit but did not reply to inquiries seeking comment.

The 7th Circuit opinion isn’t a ruling on the merits, Albers noted. “There’s not a lot of precedent where two companies coexisted this long and used the same words in their respective marks, and that was an issue we raised (at the District Court).”

Albers argued that a 66-year-old 7th Circuit ruling, California Fruit Growers Exch. v. Sunkist Baking Co., 166 F.2d 971 (1947), could have helped his client prevail. In that case, Hoosier jurist Sherman Minton wrote an opinion reversing a ruling that a baking company’s use of the “Sunkist” brand infringed the trademark on citrus and other such products. The case was remanded for dismissal.

Krieg DeVault LLP intellectual property litigation practice chairman Ali Warr said he thinks the Kraft opinion strikes a balance using time-tested principles. Warr is not involved in the litigation.

“We know in trademark law, first in time is first in right,” Warr said. “What the preliminary injunction does is protects the Cracker Barrel trademark for Kraft’s cheese in grocery story outlets.” Kraft perfected a Cracker Barrel trademark in the 1950s, and the restaurant chain didn’t trademark its name until the 1970s.

“It permits the coexistence of two otherwise identical trademarks … based on the channels of trade and the potential for customer confusion,” he said.

Similarity of the goods being sold also enters the equation. McKenna noted that there are all kinds of similar trademarks – think of Delta Air Lines and Delta Faucets, or Ace Bandages and Ace Hardware for example. But usually those brands are unlikely to compete in similar lines of commerce, so infringement isn’t typically an issue, he said.

Experts noted that 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner went to some length in this case to note such factors. The opinion borrows from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand’s observation that it would be hard for the seller of steam shovels to find grounds for a complaint against a lipstick using the same trademark.

“Cheese and deli meat are much more closely related,” Warr said.

Affirming the preliminary injunction, he continued, “sends a pretty strong signal to Cracker Barrel that Kraft has a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits in the case at trial.” But the opinion also gives Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores an avenue to proceed in the District Court or appeal because it was critical of Kraft’s expert survey, he said.

“If I’m Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and I don’t like this ruling, this is one issue I would attack in proceeding to trial,” Warr said. “Conversely, if I’m Kraft, now I have time to conduct a more thorough survey.”

McKenna said the case also is interesting in that Kraft had not objected to Cracker Barrel’s sale of similar food items until they began appearing on grocery store shelves.

In an opinion complete with pictures of the competing logos and an inconclusive exploration of consumer psychology in trademark cases, Posner wrote that Kraft must prevail. He noted prior court observations that “the average buyer is ‘neither savant nor dolt,’ but is one who ‘lacks special competency with reference to the matter at hand.’”

“Even savvy consumers might be fooled, because they know that producers often vary the appearance of their trademarks,” Posner wrote. Classifying the products as similar low-cost packaged food items, he found that if the restaurant chain prevailed, “similar products with confusingly similar trade names will be sold through the same distribution channel – grocery stores, and often the same grocery stores.

“Such similarities and overlap would increase the likelihood of consumer confusion detrimental to Kraft,” the court held.

Cracker Barrel operates more than 620 restaurants – including 29 in Indiana – and Kraft’s Cracker Barrel cheese is sold in thousands of grocery stores.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

  2. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

  4. Being dedicated to a genre keeps it alive until the masses catch up to the "trend." Kent and Bill are keepin' it LIVE!! Thank you gentlemen..you know your JAZZ.

  5. Hemp has very little THC which is needed to kill cancer cells! Growing cannabis plants for THC inside a hemp field will not work...where is the fear? From not really knowing about Cannabis and Hemp or just not listening to the people teaching you through testimonies and packets of info over the last few years! Wake up Hoosier law makers!

ADVERTISEMENT