from the must-be-chicken-in-that-bowl dept
A few weeks back, we talked about a lawsuit Chipotle filed against Sweetgreen, a restaurant chain dedicated mostly to serving salads and grain bowls. The suit centered on Sweetgreen announcing a new menu item: a “Chipotle Burrito Bowl.” We found the entire suit quite odd, given that Sweetgreen’s menu item is named in a way that makes it purely descriptive. It’s a burrito bowl with chipotle flavoring. That isn’t the sort of thing that equates to trademark infringement and mostly serves to point out that Chipotle, the restaurant, did a terrible job naming itself if it wanted to trademark its business name. I concluded the post thusly:
In other words, Chipotle is mostly suing as a result of its own original sin: it chose a name for itself that can be used as well to describe a sort of food or flavor on offer. I don’t expect this suit to get very far, though that may not be the point. Sweetgreen is much smaller than Chipotle and this may simply be a bullying attempt by the latter.
As we’ve pointed out a zillion times, trademark bullying works far too often. And this appears to be yet another instance of it working. While I’m supremely confident that a fight through a trial over the suit would not yield a victory for Chipotle, we’ll never get to find out if I’m right, since Sweetgreen has already changed the name of its menu item.
Those looking forward to a legal showdown between the two fast casual competitors will be disappointed, however. Within two days of the suit being filed, Sweetgreen agreed to change the name, CNBC confirmed.
According to CNBC, an agreement in principle has been reached between the two rival chains, and Sweetgreen’s newest menu item will henceforth be known as the Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl. The amended moniker has already been added to the Sweetgreen website, where the dish is described as having “an all-grains base, citrusy black beans, and house-made roasted chipotle salsa.”
That this name change would result in the suit being resolved makes even less sense to me. The Chipotle is still in there. The only thing that changed was a swap of terms that are arguably even more descriptive and generic than “chipotle.” Either the damn thing is a burrito bowl or it isn’t. Why changing it to a “pepper” bowl should placate the suits over at Chipotle is completely beyond me, other than my guessing that someone finally took a look at this suit, decided it was a total loser if it went to trial, and decided to opt for getting a pint of blood to declare victory.
Hell, none of this even keeps Sweetgreen from selling burrito bowls generally.
Names aside, both Sweetgreen and Chipotle are now selling burrito bowls, and both offered promotions in conjunction with National Burrito Day on April 6. It looks like the next contentious battle between the two will be fought over sales.
It sure sounds like, on the merits, Sweetgreen ripped up a ticket for a winning horse. Still, as stated in the original post, Chipotle is big and Sweetgreen is not, and so we have yet another annoying instance of trademark bullying working.