Kraft Foods prevails in Cracker Barrel trademark dispute

by Keith Nunes
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CHICAGO — The Kraft Foods Group has won a preliminary injunction against the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., preventing Cracker Barrel from introducing several meat products to the retail marketplace under a licensing agreement with the John Morrell Food Group, a business unit of Smithfield Foods, Inc. Kraft Foods successfully argued that the Cracker Barrel branded meats would infringe on its trademarked Cracker Barrel brand cheeses.

Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northeastern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, found that Kraft Foods would likely prevail on the merits of its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims.

“Kraft need only show a ‘better than negligible’ chance of success of the merits, and has more than sufficiently carried this burden,” Judge Gettleman wrote in his ruling. “The court finds that Kraft owns a protectable mark in the Cracker Barrel mark and that its rights in this mark are superior to those of C.B.O.C.S.”

Kraft Foods registered the Cracker Barrel trademark in 1957, and today the brand has annual sales in excess of $130 million and a presence in more than 16,000 U.S. retail stores, according to documents filed with the court.

Lawyers for the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store attempted to argue that there is a difference between its brand and the Cracker Barrel cheese brand, and that there would be little confusion between Cracker Barrel Old Country Store meats and Cracker Barrel cheeses.

But Kraft Foods successfully argued that Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has promoted itself as Cracker Barrel in a prominent fashion and minimized its use of Old Country Store in the brand name.

“The products’ somewhat complementary nature may also contribute to confusion,” Judge Gettleman wrote in the ruling. “As Kraft points out, many companies, including John Morrell, sell both ham and cheese under the same mark. Although defendants argue that whole hams and snacking cheeses are not served together and are therefore not complementary, the relevant inquiry is whether a consumer purchasing a C.B.O.C.S. ham will believe it comes from the same source as the Kraft cheese. Further, because John Morrell intends to distribute deli meats under the C.B.O.C.S. license, and those products are complementary to cheese, there is a substantial risk that consumers will believe Kraft cheese and C.B.O.C.S. licensed meats come from the same source.”

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