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USPTO Rejects Whole Foods 'World's Healthiest Grocery Store' Trademark Because Naaaaaah

from the nice-try dept

We've talked surprisingly little about Whole Foods here at Techdirt. I suppose that the hipster's grocery paradise has somehow evaded most of the trappings of intellectual property concerns. Good on them for that. Less good is the company's recent simultaneous attempts to expand internationally while also applying for a trademark with the USPTO for "World's Healthiest Grocery Store." Neither are going very well, it seems, and it turns out they're interrelated.

The international push has not been as lucrative as executives hoped. That's in part thanks to efforts bycheaper options such as Walmart to expand its organic sections and preexisting upscale grocers that have claimed what might be Whole Food's clientele, such as the United Kingdom's Waitrose. Whole Foods co-chief executive Walter Robb told The Wall Street Journal that his company would open more than 80 new storefronts in Canada in 2015 and 2016. The current tally, though, is three; 2015 brought the opening of one location in British Columbia, with another slated to open in the fall. It will also open a location in Alberta this fall, Whole Foods said last year. That would bring its total store count to 13.

So, Whole Foods is a mostly US-based chain, with a handful of stores in the UK and Canada. I mentioned that this slow, barely-expanding growth through the rest of the world had an impact on its application to trademark "World's Healthiest Grocery Store." How? Well, it turns out the USPTO actually bothered to think about whether the claim in the mark was, you know, true.

Unfortunately for the grocer's efforts, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently rejected its application to register that slogan. Whole Foods will have six months to update and refile the case and may choose not to do so, although that seems unlikely. The agency said it rejected the trademark because it makes a "laudatory" claim, or is based on exaggerated praise that can't be proven or has not been proved true. For instance, Papa John's slogan "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza" was initially struck down by a court in 2000 because it could not substantiate that it indeed had better ingredients than all of its competitors.

Papa John's ended up getting its trademark on the basis of its continued use of the slogan, which eventually became associated with the Papa John's brand, building an association worthy of the trademark. Whole Foods itself did the very same thing with another trademark, "America's Healthiest Grocery Store." But since it barely has any presence in the world outside of the US, the USPTO has said that there is no such association with "the world" yet, nor is there evidence that the claim is in any way true or widely believed by the international market.

But Whole Foods isn't really recognized as the world's healthiest grocery store. It functions only in the United States, England and Canada, which is hardly the entire globe. On top of that, few probably associate the phrase "World's Healthiest Grocery Store" with Whole Foods; it has never used the slogan.

Companies attempt to get these kinds of superlative marks all the time, but it's nice to see the USPTO think past the end of its own "Approved!" stamp once in a while.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 12:10am

    Yeah, the phrase "whole foods" doesn't really exist in the UK, and the idea that a store could somehow be more pretentiously upmarket than Waitrose (Fortnum and Mason doesn't count because it's a department store, not a supermarket) is laughable.
    Worse than that, the UK has the absolute worst quality food in Europe. Open a supermarket in France and try to imply that French supermarkets don't already provide the very best possible fresh produce and you will literally be laughed out of the country.
    Good luck selling your brand of "high quality" food to the countries that invented modern-day pretentious cuisine, guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 4 Aug 2016 @ 5:33am

      Re: Quality

      Worse than that, the UK has the absolute worst quality food in Europe.

      Excuse me, AC, but could you qualify that, please? The food I get from my local shops is perfectly fine and there's a decent selection of organic fresh fruit and veg available should I want it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2016 @ 5:58am

        Re: Re: Quality

        Take a trip to France, and a supermarket there. Head to the grocery aisle.
        Buy yourself a few things that you'd buy in the UK. Notice that they're just plan old better than the versions you'd get in the UK.
        Take those items home and cook with them. Notice the stronger flavours, more pleasant textures and general better-ness of every single item you've brought home from France.
        Become mildly irritated by British food standards.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Also an anonymous coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 9:45am

          Re: Re: Re: Quality

          Bullshit.

          Most items in a UK supermarket come from a far wider market than the UK itself; strawberries from Spain, potatoes from Cyprus, oranges from Israel, beef from Ireland...

          UK supermarkets are under fire at the minute for deceptive marketing, selling foreign produce under English sounding "brands" such as "Willow Farms", "Rosedene Farms"... Care to explain that, Sherlock.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 4:56am

    False advertising was a crime in that past ... what ever happened to that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 8:27pm

      Re:

      False advertising was a crime in that past ... what ever happened to that?

      Trademark. "Hey, it's not a lie, it's a trademark!"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Alwaid, 4 Aug 2016 @ 11:40am

        Re: Re:

        I once knew of a gas station selling 94 octane gasoline from pumps labeled "100 Octane". They got away with it by claiming that "100 Octane" was just the "brand name".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 5:08am

    Think about it: healthy free ranging hen can lay one egg a day, summer time. Eggs differ in size and color. Whole foods receives 2-3 tractor trailer worth of "organic" identical eggs per store per week. How is that possible?

    Here is another popular lie dismantled:

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/farm-to-fable-a-times-investigation-into-tampa-bays-local-fo od-scene/2273052

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 6:15am

    More Shocked...

    that the USPTO did not grant the trade mark.

    I guess Whole Foods just needs to lavish them with a little more cashola to "massage" a few minds around there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 7:54am

    Is it code?

    "World's healthiest grocery store"?

    Ignoring that this isn't even remotely true, I think they're speaking in code. by "healthiest", I think they meant "most overpriced".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mattshow (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 8:06am

    It functions only in the United States, England and Canada, which is hardly the entire globe.

    And it barely functions in Canada. One store in BC with another in BC and one in Alberta to follow? That leaves at least 90% of the Canadian population living nowhere near a Whole Foods and probably barely aware that the chain even exists, never mind recognizing it as the "World's Healthiest Grocery Store".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bshock, 3 Aug 2016 @ 8:51am

    Bravo USPTO

    As an aging hippie (rather than a hipster), I find Whole Foods more depressing each time I visit. This chain bought out all of its potential competitors and now insists on reducing itself to little more than an overpriced Safeway. The quality of the foods and the amount of organic offerings decreases almost on a weekly basis. This place isn't even a healthy grocery store now, let alone the "world's healthiest."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2016 @ 2:14pm

    Trademark and Truth

    Since when did USPTO care if a trademark was true? Fox successfully registered "fair & balanced."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 4 Aug 2016 @ 6:59am

      Re: Trademark and Truth

      The USPTO has no interest (and should have no interest) in the truth or falsity of trademarks. Their only legitimate interest is in the possibility of consumer confusion.

      The FTC, however, might.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2016 @ 4:37pm

    Two words -

    "World Series"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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