Apparently, one of America’s largest food distributors US Foods is betting on the term “Food Fanatics” to identify itself with America’s chefs, restaurant operators, and culinarians. US Foods has registered the trademark “Food Fanatics” and has been using that trademark to promote itself in the restaurant community , using the name for a multi-platform marketing initiative that includes a magazine, website, blog, social media campaign and online videos.
US Foods became agitated when Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. , the owner of the Food Network attempted to launch a series on the Cooking Channel. The series entitled “Food Fanatics with Eden Grinsphan” was set to air on September 13, 2013 and has apparently been changed to Log On and Eat with Eden Grinsphan and will premiere Tuesday, October 15, 2013 on the Cooking Channel.
The flap appears to have begun over the Labor Day weekend when US Foods began civil actions to prevent the Cooking Channel from using the term Food Fanatics. US Foods subsequently filed a 26 page complaint US Foods Inc. v. Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., case number 1:13-cv-06279, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. US Foods claims that their investment in the “FOOD FANATICS” brand is approximately $7 million and growing contending that Scripps’ use of “FOOD FANATICS” will cause it irreparable harm and cause confusion with it’s customers and potential customers. US Foods also contends that such confusion is likely because it’s largest competitor Sysco is currently partnering with “Restaurant Impossible” hosted by Robert Irvine. In fact to show that the confusion has already started they cite an internet site called TVRAGE in which the site appears to have used US Foods’ trademark “FOOD FANATICS” to promote the television series objected to by US Foods.
Law360 reported that, US Foods claimed that it met with Scripps executives in December to discuss the possibility of joining forces to launch a reality show based on the “Food Fanatics” concept. US Foods eventually decided against the alliance, but Scripps “decided to use US Foods’ Food Fanatics trademark anyway” for the new show, US Foods claims. “When Food Network informed US Foods that it would have to pay for the opportunity to associate its US Foods brand with [the network’s show], US Foods withdrew from the discussions,” Scripps wrote. “There was no discussion of trademark licensing … as the facts will show when this case moves into the discovery phase.” The company also called the bid for a Temporary Restraining Order blocking the premiere of the show a restraint on “speech and creative expression, in violation of the public interest.”
Also according to Law360, New York (September 11, 2013, 1:23 PM ET) — Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., the owner of Food Network, appeared to reach a tentative settlement to resolve claims that its planned reality series “Food Fanatics with Eden Grinsphan” ripped off a trademark held by food distributor US Foods, according to court documents. Scripps flat-out denied the allegation that it had ever tried to license the name from US Foods. While it admitted discussing an integrated marketing agreement, it said the name only came up when US Foods proposed an article about the cooperation with Scripps for its “Food Fanatics”-branded magazine.
US Foods is represented by Patricia Brown Holmes, Linda K. Stevens, Clay A. Tillack and John E. Tanagho of Schiff Hardin LLP.
Scripps is represented by Floyd A. Mandell, Kristin L. Holland and Jeffrey A. Wakolbinger of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.
The case is US Foods Inc. v. Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., case number 1:13-cv-06279, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
This case is fascinating to me on many levels not the least of which is the level of social media entanglements contained within this case. US Foods repeatedly cites it’s active social media presence to assert it’s claims to it’s use of Food Fanatics and does have a strong presence on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Arguably, US Foods has the largest social presence of it’s largest competitors Sysco and Performance Foodservice. Ironically, all three have seemingly beefed up (no pun intended) their social presence on the social media landscape in an apparent attempt to appear “food friendly” and build communities around their respective brands. Both US Foods and Sysco are promoting chef related contests in apparent attempt to become more engaged with chefs to promote a celebrity-like appearance on their social media networks.
Also fascinating to me is the blurring of the lines between traditional B2B (Business to Business) companies and B2C (Business to Consumer). US Foods is a B2B company that focuses on restaurants, hospitals, schools and universities while The Food Network and the Cooking Channel are B2C concerns that focus on providing entertainment to consumers deriving much of their income through advertising revenue. For it’s part US Foods publishes a quarterly magazine called FOOD FANATICS in which it sells advertising and claims a circulation of over 120,000 and incorporates an interactive iPad version. US Foods distributes the magazine through it’s network of 5,000 territory managers who hand deliver the magazine to their customers who according to US Foods see 61% of their customers at least once per week for an average of 25 minutes. US Foods claims that these territory managers are equipped with talking points to guide their customers through the publication to allow for focused one-on-one discussions according to the Media Kit available for download. US Foods has also opened three Chef’Stores in Oklahoma City, Charlotte, NC, and Columbia, SC which according to David Schreibman, Executive Vice President, Strategy US Foods is designed to interact with it’s customers which appears to be another blurring of the lines between traditional B2B and B2C business models.
The landscape for foodservice distributors is changing and how will it benefit the independent restaurant operator is in my opinion still up in the air. I don’t believe that consumers will choose one restaurant over another because of it’s food supplier but I think many operators will ultimately choose their supplier based on the value it delivers through it’s people not it’s social media rock stars and television celebrity chefs. At the end of the day it is my belief that what is needed is that all of this time and money to be spent on providing better consultant/advisors to the independent restaurant owners and operators. In my opinion what is unfortunately taking place is a branding strategy for at least two of America’s largest distributors while many smaller distributors focus on the customer’s brand not theirs.
Watched the premiere of Log On and Eat with Eden Grinsphan on Tuesday, October 15, 2013 on the Cooking Channel. Pretty cool show! Interesting to see social media celebrities that incorporate restaurant related content into their online profiles. The way Eden interacts with everyone on the episode made the show really fun to watch. She’s natural and unpretentious in a refreshing sort of anti-Bourdain kind of way. Lot’s of food fanatics on the show, none of whom were wearing embroidered white chef coats scooping chipotle bourbon corn on asiago flatbread with gorgonzola cheese fries and basil pomegranate sauce with pecans.