Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods of Opelousas Inc. has asked a federal judge in Lafayette to stop Big Easy Foods of Louisiana from selling products in nearly identical packaging to Chachere’s.
In its lawsuit, Tony Chachere’s alleges Big Easy Foods, of Lake Charles, is violating state law by infringing on Chachere’s trademarks and violating the unfair competition federal law.
The lawsuit claims the company packaged foods and meals, including frozen shrimp and sausages, in a package that was “confusingly similar” to the Tony Chachere’s brand.
Big Easy Foods called the accusations “frivolous and without merit,” in a news release Monday.
“This is an example of a large national corporation blocking the growth of a small business trying to build its own brand,” said Larry Avery, a managing partner in the company, in the news release.
The litigation has just gotten started, and it would be inappropriate to comment on the lawsuit at this point, said Richard K. Leefe, Tony Chachere’s attorney.
All of Big Easy Foods’ frozen products, from its stuffed chickens and Wild-Caught Gulf Shrimp to its Tur-Duc-Hens and shrimp gumbo, were hand-prepared from recipes and culinary procedures developed by Big Easy Foods, said Mark Abraham, also a managing partner of Big Easy Foods.
All of the products were created by and belonged to their company before Big Easy Foods entered into the co-branding agreement with Tony Chachere’s in 2003, Abraham said.
Abraham said the company chose to put their products under the Tony Chachere’s name because the brand name had more national recognition.
“We paid Tony Chachere’s millions of dollars in licensing fees,” Abraham said in a news release.
“We recently chose not to renew our trademark agreement with the Chachere organization and chose instead to brand our products under our Big Easy name.
“This is simply a matter of moving into the future with the products we developed under our own brand name,” Abraham said.
The two companies entered into the agreement in March 2003, while Big Easy Foods was still known as French Market Foods.
The agreement allowed Big Easy Foods to manufacture, advertise and sell products using Tony Chachere’s trademarks, provided that Big Easy would not make or sell any similar products, according to the lawsuit.
Tony Chachere’s says that deal ended this year after Big Easy decided to begin offering its own brand of products in July.
“The content, font, size and style of the wording on Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s packaging is identical in many respects,” the lawsuit says. “For example, the words ‘Wild Caught Gulf Shrimp’ … is an exact copy of Plaintiff’s packaging, even the shades of blue.”
Abraham said the shrimp package is the only package in the entire line that has the same font.
He said his company created the name “Wild Gulf Caught Shrimp” and owns the shrimp plant that packages the shrimp.
He said the remainder of their products and packages “are very different.”
Abraham says Big Easy Foods uses distinctive red packaging graphics that in no way infringe on the green colors used by Tony Chachere’s.
If consumers see a Tony Chachere’s product next to a Big Easy product, Abraham said, then they are looking at old inventory being replaced with new products from Big Easy Foods.
“Tony’s does not have a competing product out right now,” Abraham said.
Since 2003, Tony Chachere’s has spent more than $17 million promoting its products, easily identifiable by their distinctive packaging, the lawsuit says.
Tony Chachere racked up more than $230 million in sales from 2003 to 2011.
Big Easy Foods deliberately copied Tony Chachere’s packaging, according to the lawsuit.
This practice could confuse consumers and lead them to believe Big Easy’s products are “licensed, sponsored, franchised, approved or in some way connected” with Tony Chachere’s.
As a result, Tony Chachere’s says, it has suffered “irreparable harm” to its business reputation, as well as lost sales, profits and business opportunity.
The lawsuit asks the court to force Big Easy to turn over all the confusing packaging, advertising, signs and other materials so the items can be destroyed.
Tony Chachere’s is also asking the court for damages, with the court to determine the amount.
Tony Chachere’s does not have an estimate on the amount of damages incurred, said Leefe, its attorney.
The litigation has just gotten started, and it would be inappropriate to comment on the lawsuit at this point, said Richard K. Leefe, Chachere’s attorney.