Industry News | May 5, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

Starbucks Being Sued Over its Unicorn Frappuccino

Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino sold out in stores across the country. Starbucks
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Two unicorns in the kitchen turned out to be too many.

The End Brooklyn, a coffee shop is Brooklyn, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Starbucks, saying the java giant’s much-publicized Unicorn Frappuccino “diluted” its Unicorn Latte and caused damage that “may well be irreparable.”

The End began selling its unicorn-themed drink in December 2016. The blended beverage contains fresh ingredients such as cold-pressed ginger, lemon juice, dates, cashews, maca root, blue-green algae, and vanilla bean. On that note, the drink doesn’t have much in common with Starbucks’ colorful concoction that created a social media firestorm across the country.

And that’s one of the problems, the plaintiff, Bret Caretsky, co-owner of The End, says. “We developed the Unicorn Latte as a healthy and delicious product. The Unicorn Latte has been the most popular product we’ve created to date, so we were shocked and disappointed when Starbucks came out with the Unicorn Frappuccino, which is similar to our product in name and appearance, but has none of its healthy ingredients,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit also spoke of the differences in quality.

“Like Plaintiffs’ product, the Unicorn Frappuccino contains no coffee, despite the name. However, while the Unicorn Latte is a blend of fresh juices and healthy ingredients, the Unicorn Frappuccino is a concoction of milk, artificial sweeteners, color additives, and pinches of fruit juice concentrate for flavor. At no point prior to developing, marketing, and launching its product did Starbucks approach Plaintiffs for permission to use a name deceptively similar to Unicorn Latte.”

The End is only asking for Starbucks to award the shop all profits from sales of the Unicorn Frappuccino and to never use that moniker again. Even though the LTO ran from just April 19—23, it sold out almost everywhere and led the company to hint at its stellar April sales during a recent conference call—exact metrics that will likely be evident in fiscal third-quarter results. Seeing as Starbucks has more than 13,000 U.S. units, let’s just say this purse The End is asking for would be rather heavy.

Starbucks’ reach, the lawsuit notes, is exactly why this is such a problem. The End’s Unicorn Latte, which has been featured in The New York Times and Huffington Post, is now being treated a “copy-cat or knockoff.” Customers have even asked employees to make them a Unicorn Frappuccino.

The End’s drink was “reduced to an also ran anecdote to Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino,” the lawsuit says. The coffee shop applied to register the Unicorn Latte name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in January.

“The size of and scope of Starbucks’ product launch was designed so that the Unicorn Frappuccino would eclipse the Unicorn Latte in the market, thereby harming Plaintiffs and confusing their customers,” the lawsuit says. “In addition to having a highly similar name, Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino shares visual similarities to the Unicorn Latte in that both were brightly colored and featured the colors pink and blue prominently.”

Starbucks responded by saying that the Unicorn Frappuccino “was inspired by the fun, spirited, and colorful unicorn-themed food and drinks that have been trending in social media,” and that the lawsuit has no merit.

Josh Schiller, of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP in New York, released a statement. “Starbucks, with its thousands of coffee shops, launched a competing product with a similar look and name, and marketed it in the same channels where our client’s product became famous, severely damaging our client’s mark. We brought this lawsuit to protect a local business from having its valuable intellectual property taken by a global corporation.”