Splenda and Dunkin’ Donuts in Trade Mark Infringement Battle
Written by Fozia Cheychi on 21 November 2016« Return to Reading Room
Heartland Consumer Products (‘Heartland’), the Carmel based owner of Splenda has launched trade mark infringement proceedings against Dunkin’ Brands Inc. (‘Dunkin’). Heartland is alleging that Dunkin’ is misleading consumers into thinking they are buying the real Splenda when what they are actually getting is a cheaper made Chinese product.
Heartland purchased the Splenda brand last year from McNeil Nutritionals- a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. According to the complaint that has been filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Heartland alleges that Dunkin’ stopped purchasing Splenda from Heartland in April 2016. However Dunkin’ continued to tell its customers that the sweetener they offered is the American-made sucralose sweetener.
Dunkin’ stores offer customers low-calorie sweeteners in three different coloured packets namely; Yellow, blue and pink. The packets do not include a brand name and all three packets indicate that the sweetener is manufactured for Dunkin’ by Chicago Merisant U.S. Inc.
Heartland alleges that Dunkin’ is still deceiving customers into thinking that the sweetener in the yellow packaging is Splenda sweetener- Splenda also uses yellow packaging for its sweetener.
Heartland instructed 70 investigators to visit more than 70 Dunkin’ stores around the country, the investigators asked for Splenda sweetener. The lawsuit states “Investigators revealed that a clear majority of stores affirmatively represented, through their agents or employees that non- Splenda sucralose sweetener was instead Splenda brand sweetener”. The lawsuit further alleges that Dunkin’ uses off-brand sucralose sweetener in its baked goods but tells customers that the product actually contains Splenda.
Heartland has said that it has also received “numerous” complaints from Dunkin’ customers. The Complaint states that “customers have complained that the sweetener added to their Dunkin’ Donuts products results in a funny taste, or that they are otherwise not certain what sweetener Dunkin’ Donuts is giving them”. Heartland says that this practice damages the Splenda brand as it makes consumers question the quality of the Splenda product.
Splenda was introduced in the U.S. market in 2000 and according to research undertaken by Neilsen Co. Splenda is the most popular brand of low calorie sweetener in the U.S. It has 32 percent of the market share and its sales this year are expected to be $163 million.
Heartland is accusing Dunkin’ of trade mark infringement, false advertising and dilution through “knowing and intentional unauthorised use” of the Splenda name. It is asking the court to stop Dunkin’ from using the Splenda name in any way; from representing that it uses Splenda products; and from offering any sweeteners except for Splenda in yellow packets.
Heartland is seeking damages, defendant’s profits, and court costs. The lawsuit does not specify the monetary amount that Heartland is seeking.
In a written statement a Heartland Spokesperson commented “When customers ask for Splenda no-calorie sweetener, they expect to get what they are seeking for in their cup of coffee”. It continued “This lawsuit is to ensure that when a customer asks for Splenda no-calorie sweetener by name, that is what they are getting. Only Splenda no-calorie sweetener is made in America, guaranteeing it is of the highest quality. We are optimistic this dispute can and will be resolved between the parties.”
Dunkin’ Donuts has declined to comment on the matter due to the pending litigation.
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