-Martha Engel, Attorney
On a recent happy hour trip to HopCat, a brewpub chain with an incredible beer list of local and regional craft beers, I expected to find a trademark issue or two among the tap handles. However, instead, I was distracted by a “catsup” bottle (hah) positioned casually next to a bottle of Heinz mustard.
The familiar green and gold border, the white cap, the white background, the shape of the plastic bottle…it reminded me of this previous DuetsBlog post involving a de-branded ketchup bottle. Private labeling and contract manufacturing has become an increasingly popular means of overcoming barriers to entry, entering new market segments, or accommodating increased demand, especially for breweries, wineries, and distilleries.
I doubt I’m alone in quickly jumping to the conclusion the HopCat “catsup” was a private labeled version of this and also wondered why the mustard wasn’t similarly branded (other than the lack of appropriate mustard puns):
But looking at the back of the bottle, I was proven wrong just as quickly: “Manufactured for Hop Cat by Red Gold, LLC.” However, Red Gold ketchup bottles appear to be sold generally with a yellow cap and a yellow label. Hmm.
I suppose the shape of the HopCat bottle is closer to Red Gold’s shape, but everything else suggested to me that Heinz was the source behind the brewpub’s ketchup.
In contract manufacturing or private labeling agreements, it’s important to consider the responsibilities of each entity for packaging decisions. Is the buyer responsible for providing the artwork for approval by the supplier? Or is the manufacturer responsible for that with the buyer’s approval? What are the approval conditions if any? And depending on that decision, which entity is responsible for any liability associated with intellectual property or regulatory claims? The representations and warranties in the agreement should also appropriately protect the entities – especially the buyer who is ultimately putting the product out into the market.