Chiquita sues Chicago area grocer for naming stores, products using the Spanish word it says it owns

By Scott Holland | Jun 26, 2015

When is a Chiquita not a banana? When it’s a Chicagoland grocery store.

At least that’s been the case since 2013, and the venerable fruit purveyor is bringing an action in federal court to alleviate the alleged confusion.

Chiquita Brands is suing Alfredo Linares Inc. for trademark infringement and unfair competition. ALI, Chicquita claims, changed the name of its northern Illinois grocery stores and restaurants to Chiquita Food Market in 2013, and uses the Chiquita name for store-brand meats and spices.

There are eight Chiquita Food Market and Taqueria locations in Chicago, West Chicago, Aurora, Bensenville, Cicero, Franklin Park and Rockford. ALI also operates a Chiquita-branded Laundromat on West 26th Street in Chicago, about a mile west of one of the food markets.

Chiquita is a Spanish language colloquialism for a small girl, well represented in the trademarked food market logo, which features a short female in blonde pigtails tied with red bows, wearing a pink skirt with red suspenders over a red polka-dot top standing behind a shopping cart full of indeterminate grocery items.

However, the most well-known Chiquita icon is Miss Chiquita, the adult woman wearing a hat filled with fruit. She is a World War II-era creator of famed comic strip artist Dik Browne, who also originated the “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois” strips. The filing documents dozens of iterations of the famed logo, most widely known as a sticker on the company’s bananas, but also used for its cookies, breakfast cereals, fruit juices, dipping sauces and several other food items.

“Live models and personalities brought Miss Chiquita to life as early as 1944, and she evolved from an animated banana into being depicted as a human woman,” the suit asserts, listing text and graphic details about more than 60 registered international Chiquita trademarks and logos.

At one time, the famous Chiquita banana jingle was played 376 times per day on radio stations across the United States, the complaint states.

“The lyrics began as an explanation to an American audience about how to ripen and use bananas,” the suit notes. “Since, the lyrics have been updated to highlight the healthy nature of Chiquita’s products – and to explicitly refer the customer to the CHIQUITA label – ‘look for Chiquita’s label’ – at the end.”

Chiquita says ALI opened the Bensenville location after receipt of a 2014 communication notifying the ALI president of the trademark infringement allegations. It also notes ALI sold legitimately branded Chiquita grocery items in the same stores where it was using its own Chiquita branding on signage and store-brand food products, leading to the conclusion: “Chiquita’s and ALI’s customers are identical.”

Chiquita requested a jury trial and wants ALI to drop any and all references to the Chiquita name in any of its stores or products. Further, Chiquita requests ALI be ordered to “deliver up for destruction all advertisements, promotional materials, labels, signs, pictures, letterhead, plaques and any other materials containing infringing marks and/or false claims in its possession, custody or control, or in the possession, custody or control of any of its agents or representatives that are in use in the United States or which are designed to be used in the United States.”

Chiquita also asks ALI to be made liable for legal fees and damages, but also that ALI account for and pay to Chiquita any profits earned during the period it was using the Chiquita name. If the jury finds in Chiquita’s favor, ALI would have 30 days to file a report of its plans to comply.

Chiquita’s legal representation includes David A. Golanty, of Boodell & Domanskis, of Chicago, and Thomas F. Hankinson and Alison J. Stimac, both of Keating Muething & Klekamp, of Cincinnati.

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