The owners of the Herbivorous Butcher have won a trademark battle against multinational food giant Nestlé over use of the phrase "vegan butcher," assuring it will remain in the public domain.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office closed the case in a Jan. 19 ruling after Nestlé quietly abandoned its pursuit of the trademark for its Sweet Earth Foods division last fall.
Word of the victory arrived a few weeks ago and came as a surprise to Aubry Walch, who first started selling a line of plant-based meats and cheeses with her brother, Kale, at farmers markets in 2014.
"We're really glad that for whatever reason they saw the light," she said. "It was definitely a win for the entire movement."
Through the pandemic, the Herbivorous Butcher, with a retail and wholesale operation across the river from downtown Minneapolis, has kept its doors open in part because of increased sales to consumers.
"That part of the business skyrocketed," Aubry Walch said. "A lot of people are OK spending money because they're not going out to eat as much and just want something a little more special."
After layoffs, a federal forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan helped the shop hire back all staff members.
The Walches had applied for a trademark of "vegan butcher" several years ago but had been denied on grounds that it was "merely descriptive."
When Nestlé's Sweet Earth Foods tried to lay claim to the term just a few weeks after their denial, the siblings hired a lawyer.
They wanted the patent office either to grant Herbivorous Butcher rights to use the phrase, or to make it available to anyone.
"After spending the past couple of years dealing with this and talking to other vegan butcher shops and other people doing similar stuff to us, we decided that the term 'vegan butcher' doesn't belong to anyone — and it shouldn't belong to anyone," Walch said Wednesday.
"At the end of the day we want everyone to be able to use it."
Herbivorous Butcher has continued to use the term in its retail and wholesale operation. This summer, Nestlé's Sweet Earth Foods offered to pay the Herbivorous Butcher's legal costs if the owners would agree to a settlement where both entities could lay claim to the term. There was no negotiation, Walch said. And since then, silence. The fight has cost Herbivorous Butcher about $20,000, she estimates. And she's not expecting to hear from Nestlé.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335 Twitter: @JackieCrosby