Brenda Lamb didn’t want to go to court. It costs a lot of money, and you can never be sure how these things will go.
“I was very apprehensive,” she said.
But in the end, Lamb, owner of the popular St. Paul-based Candyland shops, felt she had no choice. It was time to slap down three giant snack firms — Garrett Popcorn Shops and Cornfields, both based in the Chicago area, and Snyder’s-Lance of Charlotte, N.C. — for using the trademark that Candyland registered years ago on its popular blend of traditional, caramel and cheesy popcorn: “Chicago Mix.”
Candyland filed federal lawsuits this month against the three national companies, each of them much bigger than the St. Paul business, which has four Twin Cities stores and annual sales of less than $5 million.
No hearing dates are set, and Lamb said settlement talks are underway with one of the firms. Calls to all three companies for comment went unanswered.
This isn’t about popcorn or the way it’s mixed, she said. This is about what you call it.
Besides, the blends sold by the other companies as “Chicago Mix” don’t even use Candyland’s formula. They include the two flavored varieties but not the regular salted popcorn.
So how did a St. Paul sweets shop wind up naming a taste treat (it is, trust me) after the Windy City?
Lamb said she had just returned from a candy show in Chicago in 1988 and was mixing popcorn, when out of the blue she decided to throw together all three popcorn varieties. Customers snapped up the bags as fast as she put them out.
She named the mix Chicago, she said, because it’s “the popcorn capital, and marketing-wise putting a big city’s name on it will draw more attention.” Sorry, Minneapolis.
Candyland applied for the trademark two years later, and got it in 1992. “We felt we had a little bit of a gold mine,” she said.
Other companies plainly agreed. Over the years, Candyland has had to send out any number of cease-and-desist letters to popcorn sellers large and small to protect its rights. Most of the time it worked, Lamb said.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to go to litigation,” she said.