David Chang and Momofuku will stop enforcing ‘chile crunch’ trademark

After days of public backlash over the enforcement of their brand of “chili crunch,” a term widely considered generic among Asian condiment producers, celebrity chef David Chang and his company Momofuku backtracked and announced that they would no longer apply it.

Momofuku’s new policy, as CEO Marguerite Mariscal explained in a podcast with Chang on Friday, runs the risk that a larger company, like Costco or Trader Joe’s, could step in and produce a similar product under “chili crunch” or “chili crunch”, which effectively compromises brand value.

In an announcement sent to The Washington Post on Friday, a Momofuku spokesperson noted that the company believed its “chili crunch” brand name reflected the uniqueness of its product in the broader “chili crisp” condiment category. But over the past week, we’ve heard feedback from our community and now understand that the term “chili crunch” has a broader meaning for many. We have no interest in ‘owning’ any culture’s terminology and will not enforce the brand in the future,” the spokesperson wrote in the statement.

“This situation has created a painful divide between Momofuku, the AAPI community we care deeply about, and other companies sharing grocery store shelves,” the company spokesperson wrote, referring to the community of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “But the truth is, we all want the same things: to grow, to succeed, and to make America’s food pantries and grocery stores a more diverse place.”

As first reported by the Guardian on April 4, Momofuku had sent cease and desist letters to manufacturers who used chili crunch in the name of their products. The news was a slap in the face to members of the AAPI community — and beyond.

Chang and Momofuku were accused of intimidating family producers with ancestral ties to the spicy-oily-crispy condiment, popular in China and other Asian countries. Chang and his company were exposed for trying to stifle competition with a brand that many considered not distinctive enough to receive legal protection. Momofuku’s trademark has been repeatedly criticized as being “merely descriptive,” which, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, purpose, or use.” specified goods or services.

The reversal of the Momofuku brand was good news for Michelle Tew, founder and chief executive of Homiah, a New York-based company. If Homiah had been forced to change the name of its sambal chili crunch – a condiment that dates back generations of its Nyonya heritage in Malaysia – it would run the risk of losing the new contracts it had signed with Whole Foods and Target, a she declared.

“I am happy to hear that Momofuku has taken a step in the right direction and appreciate their commitment to not enforce these phrases,” Tew said in a text message to the Post.

At the same time, Tew would like to see Momofuku go further by removing its current trademark for “chili crunch” and withdrawing its request for an alternative spelling of “chili crunch,” which the company requested on March 29. and Momofuku said the company has common law rights to both terms, even though it only has one federally registered at the moment.

On his podcast Friday, Chang said he realizes that some might have considered the distinction they made between “crunchy” and “crispy” when they got the trademark “silly.” This week, he said, he discovered, through the outcry, that the terms “crispy” and “crispy” are essentially the same thing in Mandarin.

“By using the term ‘crunch’ as ​​a trademark, Momofuku can be seen as trying to appropriate a piece of Chinese culture and heritage, which is the exact opposite of what we wanted to achieve,” he said. -he declared on the podcast. “You can also see that we’re trying to squeeze people out of the space and we’re trying to, you know, be a monopoly and not play nice.”

Momofuku had purchased the “chili crunch” brand from Chile Colonial, a Denver-based company that had owned the brand since 2015. Colonial had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Momofuku shortly after Momofuku launched its “chili crunch” » in 2020., but rather than fight it, the company worked with Colonial to buy the brand. Momofuku obtained the trademark last year, according to the patent office.

“If I had known or if Momofuku had known that ‘chili crunch’ was a tautology, basically the same as chili crisp, we never would have named this chili crunch,” Chang said on the podcast.

But Chang said he has heard from fellow chefs and customers angered by efforts to protect the brand. “I want to apologize to anyone in the AAPI community who has been hurt or feels like we have marginalized them or limited them by our actions,” he said.

Despite requests from Tew and others, Momofuku will keep the “chili crunch” brand. On the podcast, Mariscal said Momofuku can’t just view the term “Chilean crisis” as generic. She also said that simply not enforcing it could create a problem.

“If we were to abandon the trademark, the term chili crunch could be claimed tomorrow by anyone — most likely by another company with the resources and desire to sue everyone who uses the trademark,” Mariscal said. “While this option sounds great, it is difficult to put into practice.”

Momofuku had considered a number of ways to manage the brand, but ultimately the company decided against it, even though it might lead to a larger company trying to reclaim it. “The risk for the company is that someone will come and say that we don’t defend it and try to take the brand. But it’s a risk we’re willing to take,” she said.

Chang compared the mark to the ring from “Lord of the Rings” – almost impossible to remove. “Once we understood the power of this thing, we thought we had to get rid of it. It’s not ours to use,” he said. “But we can’t give it away or destroy it.”

By taking this step, Chang hopes people will realize that Momofuku is not an “evil company.”

“So to all the Trader Joe’s and other chili crunch producers out there,” Chang added, “We’re not going to stop anyone from using that name. It’s not going to happen. That being said, I’m a pretty competitive person and I truly believe our product is unique and delicious. But I wish you all good luck. We’ll see you there, whether in the grocery stores or elsewhere.

Chang added that if anyone else had a better plan, “we’re all ears.”

“If there’s a charity that wants it, great,” he said. “If we can figure out how to do this and stop multi-billion dollar companies from doing it, that’s fantastic.”

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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