The J.M. Smucker Company complained in the Ohio Northern District Court that one of its competitors, Hormel Foods Corporation, is making “tortious efforts to derail” the launch of a no-sugar-added version of JIF peanut butter because the planned light blue lid and label is infringing on Hormel’s trade dress rights to the color teal in relation to peanut butter.
“No consumer would likely confuse clearly-labeled JIF peanut butter with clearly-labeled SKIPPY peanut butter and no reasonable litigant would claim infringement upon these facts,” the petition claimed, arguing that the JIF trademark which will be prominent on the peanut butter will prevent confusion among consumers.
Smucker is represented in the case by Baker & Hostetler. The company alleged that Hormel has reached out in emails and letters to Smucker, asserting that Hormel has “unregistered trade dress rights” to the teal container lid that Smucker plans to use for JIF No Added Sugar. Smucker alleges Hormel has a history of pursuing trademark cases with little merit, and that this debate lands in that category.
Hormel allegedly submitted trademark applications for their teal pattern on peanut butter jars and the teal lid on April 30, which the complaint says will take a year or more to be considered, and after that Smucker would have the opportunity to challenge the trade dress rights.
“Hormel’s repetitive and escalating baseless threats and accusations have impacted and threaten to derail Smucker’s nationwide launch of JIF No Added Sugar, damaging Smucker’s investment, market momentum, and goodwill,” Smucker claimed
Smucker said they choose a color for the lid that would differentiate the no sugar added peanut butter from their other flavors and alleged Hormel has done the same with various types of Skippy peanut butter flavors. Smucker also claims the color blue is associated by consumers with low sugar items, including other peanut butter companies like Peter Pan.
“Smucker has no need or desire to copy any aspect of the SKIPPY packaging because the JIF brand has been – by far – the most popular peanut butter brand in America for decades,” the complaint claimed.
Smucker requested a judgment declaring that Hormel does not own trade dress rights to blue, teal, or dark teal and that there is no likelihood of confusion. It also sought damages because of Hormel’s interference in their product launch and for unfair competition.