Hormel Foods Corp. is suing Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. for using the "Black Label" mark on its Beggin' Strips line of dog treats.

The Austin, Minn.-based food company filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota last week, alleging trademark infringement, deceptive trade practices and false designation of origin.

Hormel has sold bacon products (for human consumption) under the "Black Label" trademark since 1963. St. Louis-based Purina began marketing its new Black Label line of "bacon-shaped" dog treats in January, according to the complaint filed by attorney James Steffen of Minneapolis-based Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, who is representing Hormel.

The complaint argues Hormel is a "bacon pioneer that has spent over 100 years perfecting the flavor of bacon," adding it is the only major brand to use fresh, never frozen, pork bellies in its bacon.

Purina's sudden use of the Black Label term and what Hormel believes is image likeness in its marketing material, causes "consumer confusion," is "trading upon the goodwill" established by Hormel Foods and is causing the food company "substantial and irreparable harm and injury."

Hormel sent a warning notice to Purina in early January, warning the pet-food company of its exclusive rights to the trademark name, according to the complaint. Purina has continued to use the name and marketing material. The complaint contends Purina is trying to draw false connections between its dog-treat line and Hormel's Black Label line, citing a Beggin' Strips commercial in which a dog is sniffing around the grocery store and the camera pans across Hormel's Black Label bacon.

"Hormel Foods has used its Black Label mark in connection with bacon for more than 50 years, promotes the Black Label bacon brand very actively, and owns long established rights for the mark," Hormel said in a statement.

"Because our brands and trademarks represent a standard of quality and value to our consumers, customers, and shareholders, willful unauthorized use of our Black Label mark is taken very seriously, and we will protect our brand vigorously."

Purina did not respond to a request for comment.

Hormel is requesting a jury trial. The company is seeking monetary damages and wants the court to demand Purina stop using "Black Label" in connection with its dog treats.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767