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Chipotle vs. Sweetgreen: Trademark Battle Brewing in a Bowl?

Amrusha Chati

Amrusha Chati

30 July 20232 Min min read

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Chipotle vs. Sweetgreen

Popular fast-casual chain Chipotle sued Sweetgreen for trademark infringement after the latter recently released a new salad bowl named “Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl.” For a time it was Chipotle vs. Sweetgreen in a tense matchup of IP wits.   

Chipotle filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, 4 April 2023.

Chipotle claimed Sweetgreen’s new menu item constitutes trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and deceptive trade practice. Read the complaint hereChipotle Mexican Grill Inc. et al. v. Sweetgreen Inc, Case 8:23-cv-00596, California Central District Court.

But wait, can a burrito bowl trademark really stir up so much trouble? 

Chipotle’s complaint

If you are a $46.7 billion giant burrito chain with 96 trademarks to its name, including its very own color like Chipotle, then trademark infringement is very serious business indeed. Chipotle has alleged that Sweetgreen is trying to create confusion in the minds of consumers and take advantage of the brand equity and customer loyalty to the Chipotle brand and the company’s products.

Who are the players in Chipotle vs Sweetgreen?

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. develops and operates fast-casual, fresh Mexican food restaurants throughout the U.S. Chipotle sells a focused menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls, and salads prepared using classic cooking methods. The burrito and salad chain was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 and is headquartered in Newport Beach, CA.

Here’s a list of things that Chipotle argued Sweetgreen is guilty of concerning the controversial “Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl”:

1. Too Close for Comfort

Chipotle has claimed that Sweetgreen’s new offering is being marketed in a “very similar and directly competitive” manner similar to Chipotle’s “chicken burrito bowl.”

2. Copy + Paste = Font

Another complaint from Chipotle in this trademark dispute is that Sweetgreen has used a font “nearly identical to Chipotle’s stylized logo.” which could confuse many consumers.

3. Bowl-ed Over

Apart from the marketing side, Chipotle has also taken issue with the product itself, alleging that Sweetgreen’s burrito bowl features similar ingredients to its own such as chicken, a grain base (rice), and black beans.

4. Seeing (Adobo) Red

According to the lawsuit, Sweetgreen’s advertisements feature a background nearly identical to Chipotle’s Adobo Red color, the same color as dry-smoked jalapeno peppers.

A swift resolution

With such an extensive list of grievances, Chipotle is not taking this matter lightly. 

In a statement to CNN, Chipotle said it’s “committed to protecting our valuable trademarks and intellectual property” and added that “consistent with that, we will take appropriate actions whenever necessary to protect our rights and our brand.” 

And Chipotle’s bid to protect its trademarked intellectual and creative property seems to have paid off. Reports have already started coming in within just two days after the lawsuit was filed.

Sweetgreen settled and renamed the offending product. It’s a quick agreement indeed.

CNBC and CBS reported that the company decided to rename the bowl to the “Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl” to focus on its business and serve customers without distraction, according to statements from Sweetgreen representatives.

The significance of IP protection

All’s well that ends well, and in the world of trademark litigations, such swift, happy endings are uncommon but welcome. Such cases exemplify the importance of protecting your intellectual capital with trademarks, patents, and copyrights, and they also set a precedent for businesses to respect each other’s intellectual property rights and avoid messy litigation battles.

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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.