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Splenda®-loving Speedway patrons beware! Or not.

In the second gas station-related lawsuit this week, Speedway gas stations are accused of providing knock-off Chinese-manufactured Splenda, the well-known sugar substitute sweetener. For our health-minded blog readers who don’t touch the stuff or just crave real sugar, Splenda sweetener is actually sucralose, a low-calorie sugar-substitute first approved by the FDA in 1998.

Splenda’s manufacturer claims trade dress protection for sucralose sold in yellow packets, of which diner-frequenters, coffee and tea drinkers probably recognize:

Speedway is accused of providing knock-off Chinese sucralose sweetener in yellow packaging at their gas station coffee kiosks. The Plaintiff asserts that “Speedway’s yellow-colored packets are not provided to customers with sufficient cues to the consumer to prevent the mistaken belief by consumers that the yellow packets are in fact SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener.”

Blog readers, would you see the above packet at a coffee kiosk and automatically assume that it is Splenda®? If so, reach out to Plaintiff’s attorney, because that’s the basis of this lawsuit. (Aside: Did you know there are over 50 shades of yellow?)

Splenda’s manufacturer asserts trade dress infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and dilution claims against Speedway. This will be an interesting case to follow, with both parties being fairly large companies, and presumably with Speedway gas stations already providing their yellow “knock-off” sweetener widely. Not being a coffee drinker (although married to one), I can only guess at what goes through the coffee drinker’s mind before consuming that cherished travel-sized cup of lukewarm gas station bitter brown water, but I really wonder if they are confused by the yellow packaging or whether they care at all. I suspect coffee drinkers grabbing a free packet of sweetener from a gas station kiosk don’t care at all what type of sucralose they’re ingesting, so long as the delivery medium is decently warm and caffeinated. Speedway’s packaging does not mention “Splenda” whatsoever, just listing ingredients of dextrose and sucralose. Apparently, it’s the use of the color yellow (but which yellow?) that bought Speedway this lawsuit.

A fairly easy potential compromise would be for Speedway to provide their sucralose sweetener in non-yellow packaging, but I’m guessing Speedway will decide to challenge Splenda’s asserted monopoly over the color yellow for sweeteners. Splenda’s arguably broad trade dress might need to be narrowed to a certain yellow shade (or shades), rather than the entire spectrum of yellow.

Either way, this lawsuit will be interesting to follow…stay tuned for updates.

Heartland Consumer Products LLC v. Speedway, LLC

Court Case Number: 1:21-cv-00322-JMS-TAB
File Date: February 8, 2021
Plaintiff: Heartland Consumer Products LLC
Plaintiff Counsel: Holiday W. Banta, Jessa DeGroote, Alice Kelly of ICE MILLER LLP
Defendant: Speedway, LLC
Cause: Trade Dress Infringement, Common Law Trade Dress Infringement, False Designation of Origin, Federal Unfair Competition, False or Misleading Representation of Fact, False Advertising, Common Law Unfair Competition, Federal Trademark Dilution, State Trademark Dilution
Court: Southern District of Indiana
Judge: Jane Magnus-Stinson
Referred To: Tim A. Baker