Updated: Hormel Foods sues Purina over 'Black Label' moniker

by Erica Shaffer
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The maker of Black Label bacon products fears consumer confusion with dog treats.
 
AUSTIN, Minn. – Hormel Foods Corp., which has sold bacon under the “Black Label” mark since 1963, is determined that its famous trademark won’t go to the dogs. The company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against St. Louis, Missouri-based Nestle Purina Petcare Co. for using the Black Label mark on Purina’s Beggin’ brand of pet treats.

In a complaint filed May 23 in US District Court in Minnesota, Hormel said Purina launched a new line of bacon-shaped pet treats under the Black Label designation in January. “Upon information and belief, Defendant adopted the BLACK LABEL mark for use with its bacon-shaped, “real meat” dog treats with knowledge of Hormel Foods’s BLACK LABEL Mark and with an intent to trade on the goodwill in Hormel Foods’s BLACK LABEL Mark,” Hormel said in court documents.

Hormel said the company did not authorized Purina to use the Black Label mark and informed the pet food manufacturer of the alleged infringement in a letter dated Jan. 6.

The company added “…Defendant’s use of the designation BLACK LABEL in connection with its bacon-shaped, “real meat” dog treats is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception in the market as to the source, origin, sponsorship, or approval of Defendant’s goods, and to falsely suggest that Defendant and/or its dog treats are connected to or associated or affiliated with Hormel Foods and/or its BLACK LABEL-brand bacon products.”

In a statement, Purina said “We respect intellectual property rights, including trademarks, which are meant to protect against consumer confusion. We are confident that consumers are not confused between Hormel’s bacon and Purina’s Beggin’ dog treats. Black label is a term widely used across industries — for products like alcohol, food, clothing and cars — to designate premium quality.”

For example, Johnnie Walker brand whiskey labels include Johnnie Walker Black Label blended scotch whiskey. Apparel retailers Chico’s and Ralph Lauren both manufacture clothing lines bearing the Black Label name. Still, Hormel argued in court documents that Purina went beyond appropriating the Black Label mark by prominently featuring real bacon in television commercials for Beggin’ treats (including a shot of Hormel Black Label bacon at one point) and in other advertisements Hormel claims are “strikingly similar to a number of Hormel advertisements for its Black Label-brand products.”

Hormel has asked the court to bar Purina from using the Black Label mark. The company also has asked for a jury trial, monetary damages and taxable costs and attorneys’ fees.

In a statement, Hormel Foods said “Hormel Foods has used its BLACK LABEL mark in connection with bacon for more than 50 years, promotes the BLACK LABEL bacon brand very actively, and owns long established rights for the mark. Because our brands and trademarks represent a standard of quality and value to our consumers, customers, and shareholders, willful unauthorized use of our BLACK LABEL mark is taken very seriously, and we will protect our brand vigorously.”

Updated to include response from Purina.
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