Splenda Goes To War With Dunkin’ Donuts Over Lookalike Sweetener

Image courtesy of Consumerist

You won’t find little, pale-yellow packets of Splenda at Dunkin’ Donuts, but you will find little pale-yellow packets of a knockoff version of the sweetener. Heartland Consumer Products, the company behind Splenda, is taking Dunkin’ to court, claiming the coffee-and-donut chain is misleading consumers into thinking they are getting the real Splenda when it’s just a knockoff.

Heartland filed the lawsuit [PDF] in federal court in Indianapolis against Dunkin’ Brands Inc.

According to the complaint, after Dunkin’ and Heartland ended their business relationship in April, the fast food chain turned to “Chinese-made, off-brand sucralose” in packaging that Heartland contends is all too similar to Splenda’s.

Both sweeteners come in pale-yellow paper packets. The Dunkin’ version does not include any brand name for the sucralose it contains, but language on the packaging indicates it is manufactured for Dunkin’ Brands by Chicago-based Merisant. 

In spite of the Merisant disclosure and the lack of Splenda branding, Heartland claims that customers often believe that the product is Splenda. This, the company alleges, is “damaging the hard-earned reputation” of the sweetener and lessens “the value of its trademark.”

To make the confusion worse, Heartland alleges that Dunkin’ employees often tell inquiring customers that the sweetener is, in fact, Splenda.

Heartland says it sent investigators to more than 70 randomly chosen Dunkin’ stores to document employees’ responses to requests for Splenda and follow-up questions about the “yellow packet sweetener.”

The company claims that its investigation found that “a clear majority of stores affirmatively represented, through their agents or employees, that non-Splenda sugarless sweetener was instead Splenda.”

“Even in the face of responses from consumers that the packet does not look like a Splenda packet, such consumers are insistently told that such product is Splenda when it is not,” the suit states.

In addition to the investigation, Heartland says in the suit that it has received numerous complaints from Dunkin’ customers related to the quality of the sweetener that they believed to be Splenda.

“These complaints make clear that customers in Dunkin’ Donuts stores have been deceived as to the true nature of the sucralose product provided to them,” the suit states. “Customers have complained that the sweetener added to their Dunkin’ Donuts products results in a funny taste, or that they are otherwise not certain what sweetener Dunkin’ Donuts is giving them.”

With the lawsuit, Heartland seeks to prohibit Dunkin’ from using the Splenda name in any way; from representing that it uses Splenda products; and from offering any sweeteners except for Splenda in yellow packets. The company is asking the court for unspecified damages including the costs of corrective advertising, profits made by Dunkin’, and court costs and other damages.

[via Indianapolis Business Journal]

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