Old Bay crabby over New Bae: McCormick takes rival spice to court, claiming trademark infringement

The Baltimore Sun

Old Bay parent company McCormick and Co. filed a federal lawsuit this week claiming trademark infringement from a Pittsburgh spice company that produces a seasoning called New Bae.

The suit against Primal Palate, an organic spice company, was filed Monday and claims that Primal Palate has intentionally traded on the fame and goodwill of Old Bay. McCormick’s suit argues that New Bae is intended to create a wrongful association with Old Bay and to diminish its reputation, according to court records.

McCormick, based in Hunt Valley, has owned the rights to Old Bay since it purchased the beloved Baltimore brand in 1990. The suit demands that all profits from New Bae sales be paid to McCormick and that any products, merchandise or records bearing the name New Bae be destroyed.

“Old Bay is a household favorite with millions of loyal consumers here in Maryland and around the country,” McCormick representative Lori Amos Robinson said in an email Wednesday. “This lawsuit was filed by McCormick to protect the trademark and avoid confusion with other brands. [Old Bay] is one of the most cherished brands in the McCormick portfolio and we intend to defend it.”

Primal Palate launched New Bae in October 2017, writing in a blog post that husband and wife co-founders Hayley and Bill Staley “didn’t intend to set up a terrible pun with this blend, but it’s really become the sweetheart blend in our kitchen.”

The Staleys filed an application in November 2017 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register New Bae as a trademarked organic spice. McCormick has since filed an opposition to the application.

The company’s attorneys also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Primal Palate in April, the suit states. McCormick says Primal Palate attorneys responded, admitting that the name New Bae was intentionally chosen to create an association with Old Bay.

The Pittsburgh company posted a statement on its Instagram account Tuesday, saying it will fight the suit and asking followers to “save New Bae.”

“Our blend is of course a nod to Old Bay, since we are always striving to offer organic, healthy options for our audiences, and provide full transparency with ingredients,” the post says. “We do not see any merit to their claims, as we feel like it’s far from likely to confuse customers, and our blends are also very very different. In fact, the way we named it was meant to differentiate it, not to mention we don’t even know what the ingredients are in Old Bay.”

The lawsuit caught Primal Palate off guard, said Hayley Staley.

“We're a small, family-owned business and all of our heart and soul goes into our blends, so it's hard for me to feel someone wants to take that away from us,” Staley said. “It's pretty devastating actually.”

The Pittsburgh company promotes products through social media and makes sales primarily online through the Primal Palate website, Amazon and Thrive Market, the Staleys said in an email.

The couple said the spice took a little time to catch on with customers, but has grown in popularity. The name, marketing visuals, flavor and the color of New Bae are distinct enough to differentiate it from Old Bay, Staley said.

“Even thought these are both spice blends, we feel like ours is targeting a different segment of the market because it's organic,” Bill Staley said. “We feel it's kind of healthy for there to be competition.”

Should Primal Palate lose the suit, the Staleys said they weren’t sure what that would mean for their brand.

“We haven’t mentally gone there,” Bill Staley said.

Old Bay was first developed in Maryland in 1939 and originally marketed as crab seasoning before expanding marketed uses to include seafood, poultry, meats, salads, soups and snacks.

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