Consumers increasingly want to know where the food they buy is coming from and often place a premium on foods sourced locally. It should come as no surprise then that a legal battle is brewing between two Wisconsin grocery chains over branding that helps to convey the locally sourced message.
Madison-based Metcalfe Inc. filed a lawsuit this week in the U.S. District Court for Western Wisconsin alleging Onalaska-based Festmark Inc., which operates Festival Foods stores, had violated its trademark on using a road sign to promote the local origins of products.
The lawsuit specifically accuses Festival Foods of trademark infringement, false designation of origin and unfair competition.
Metcalfe has three stores in Wisconsin, two in Madison and the other in Wauwatosa. Festival has 26 stores statewide stretching from Kenosha to Janesville, up to La Crosse and over to the Fox Valley, but it only recently began moving into markets served by Metcalfe’s.
Festival opened a new store in Madison in April. The store is about four miles from one of Metcalfe’s stores and eight miles from the other. The company is also planning a store in Hales Corners, about 10 miles from Metcalfe’s Wauwatosa location.
Festival Foods current has five stores in southeastern Wisconsin in Somers, Paddock Lake, Sheboygan, Mt. Pleasant and Kenosha.
Metcalfe’s lawsuit says it has spent “a great deal of time, effort and money” to develop the road sign trademarks since 2010 and uses them to promote “its commitment to selling locally made and grown products in its stores.”
The complaint says the road sign marks used by Festival are “confusingly similar” to those used by Metcalfe and will “create a likelihood of customer confusion.” The confusion will “cause irreparable harm” to the value of Metcalfe’s trademarks, the complaint says.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking Festival Foods from using the its road signs, requiring the destruction of any materials using the signs, payment to Metcalfe for any profits from using the signs, compensatory damages and other costs.
“Festival Foods has been using our Locally Grown signs for many years and believe this lawsuit has no merit,” said Brian Stenzel, director of community involvement for Festival Foods. “We intend to fight the suit vigorously and will take all the actions necessary to defend our rights.”