Uncrustables are a pretty handy snack or school lunch, considering you can just pull them right out of the freezer, put them in your bag, and run out of the house. That circular, crimped-edge form factor makes the Uncrustable an easy one-handed bite, and it only makes sense that other businesses would be interested in making a similar product. But the J.M. Smucker Company, owner of Uncrustables, isn’t exactly a fan of that idea. Smucker is trying to stop startup Gallant Tiger from selling its popular sandwich pockets on the grounds that they’re too similar to Uncrustables.
Today reports that the Minneapolis-based Gallant Tiger was hit by a cease and desist letter by Smucker. The letter states:
It has come to our attention that Gallant Tiger, LLC recently launched a new prepackaged round crustless sandwich. We have no issue with others in the marketplace selling prepackaged PB&J sandwiches, but Gallant Tiger’s use of the identical round crustless design and images of a round crustless sandwich with a bite taken out creates a likelihood of consumer confusion and causes harm to our goodwill in our trademark.
Gallant Tiger’s product looks like a decidedly more adult sandwich, with flavors like apple jelly and almond butter, chai-spiced pear butter paired with peanut butter (doesn’t that sound good?), and salted strawberry jam and peanut butter. I’m not getting childhood vibes from these versions. At the very least, it’s more complex than what Smucker’s working with.
Angela Washelesky, a lawyer for the firm representing Gallant Tiger in this matter, pointed out in a response that Smucker’s patent on “sealed crustless sandwiches” has expired.
“There are not very many shapes that a sandwich can be made into,” she wrote. “Further, there is an aesthetic aspect to a round sandwich. Most plates are round, and a round sandwich on a round plate is more aesthetically pleasing than a square sandwich on a round plate.”
Uncrustables are extraordinarily popular, but there’s no particular genius behind them; you can even purchase sandwich press tools to make your own crimped-edge sandwiches (yes, round ones) at home. More than anything, Smucker has maintained its corner of the market by securing a broad and widely debated patent, and by regularly reinforcing the protections of that patent by sending cease and desist letters to a broad range of companies it views as competitors. In 2001, the company even sent a cease and desist letter to Michigan-based Albie’s Foods, claiming a violation of intellectual property rights. But Albie’s wasn’t having it—the shop was a pasty shop, and the pasty has been Michigan specialty for decades. The cease and desist was overturned.
Today reached out to Smucker for comment on the Gallant Tiger issue, and the company responded by saying:
Please know we are not intending to restrict competition, rather we are simply focused on protecting the unique trademark design that has become synonymous with the brand and avoid instances of deliberate copycat products in the marketplace. We continue to encourage discussion with the Gallant Tiger team and are hopeful they will engage us so that we can reach an amicable resolution.
Smucker also points out that its cease and desist doesn’t reference the patents, but rather the trademarks associated with Uncrustables.
I don’t know, man. It still sounds like the bigger corporation is seeking out tactics to squash a competitor, one that appears to have a completely different customer in mind. I have a feeling that any customer with a craving for a blueberry bourbon sage jam and peanut butter handheld can tell the difference between that and an Uncrustable.