Details of the case
Chipotle Mexican Grill recently filed a complaint against Sweetgreen for introducing a new dish called the "Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl." The lawsuit, formally known as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. et al. v. Sweetgreen Inc., case number 8:23-cv-00596, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The Los Angeles-based company, known for its salads and warm grain bowls, described the bowl as a deviation from its usual salad-focused menu. Chipotle promptly noticed the similarities between Sweetgreen's offering and its own popular chicken burrito bowl, which includes ingredients like chicken, a grain base (such as rice), black beans, and salsa.
Chipotle, known for its extensive trademark portfolio featuring variations of the word "CHIPOTLE" in relation to its food and restaurants, including distinctive fonts, sent Sweetgreen a cease-and-desist letter before resorting to legal action, as is customary in trademark disputes.
Despite receiving a cease and desist letter and engaging in discussions with Chipotle's legal counsel, Sweetgreen continued to promote the menu item using the allegedly infringing font and style, leading Chipotle to take immediate legal action. However, before the case could proceed further, Sweetgreen announced its decision to settle the lawsuit on April 6. In an official statement to NPR, the spokeswoman explained, "In order to focus on the business and continue serving our guests without distraction, we have decided to rename our bowl to the Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl as part of a tentative agreement to resolve the lawsuit."
Chipotle sued other establishments in the past such as Jack in the Box Inc. and Kroger Co. for selling chicken-based meals with chipotle in the name, all of which resulted in similar settlements.
Likelihood of confusion
Chipotle's complaint argues that Sweetgreen's actions are likely to cause confusion among consumers regarding the source of the "Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl" and create a false affiliation, connection, or sponsorship between Sweetgreen and Chipotle.
Chipotle's complaint sheds light on the company's perspective and the importance it places on protecting its trademark rights. One particularly interesting aspect of the complaint highlights Sweetgreen's use of the "CHIPOTLE" mark in advertisements. It points out that Sweetgreen's ads feature the mark in all capital letters, set apart from other words or phrases, and in a light font against a background strikingly similar to Chipotle's trademarked red color, Adobo Red, and its stylized mark. Another line of argument advanced by Chipotle focuses on the resemblance between Sweetgreen's website font and Chipotle's distinctive stylized font. Although there are visible differences, such as the use of a serif font in Sweetgreen's outdoor advertisement, the overall stylization of the mark remains a significant factor in trademark analysis.
The social media activity of Sweetgreen and its followers has also become a focal point in Chipotle's argument. Chipotle points to interactions on Sweetgreen's Instagram post introducing the chipotle chicken burrito bowl, where users made comments referencing Chipotle. Sweetgreen responded with phrases like "you said it, not us" accompanied by a zipped lips emoji. Chipotle claims that these interactions demonstrate Sweetgreen's intent to create a false association with Chipotle's well-known brand.