Lawsuit against Chef Jamie Oliver may change how brands label 'gluten-free' recipes
They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but when it comes to a trademarked certification seal that might not be the case.
The Gluten Intolerance Group alleges that British Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver and his company are infringing on its trademarked seal in how Oliver designates some of his online recipes as "gluten-free." The lawsuit — filed Sept. 27 in a Washington D.C. federal court — accuses Oliver and his company of "federal certification mark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition under federal statutes, with pendent claims for trademark infringement, and unfair competition."
In question is Oliver's use of a gluten-free symbol that is similar to the GIG's gluten-free certification label — the letters "GF" in a circle accompanied by the words, "Certified Gluten Free"
The GIG logo is on the left; Oliver's is on the right.
The official GIG seal on the left, the seal found on the Jamie Oliver website onthe right is used to demote recipes suggested for those eating gluten-free.
It may seem cut and dry, but based on my knowledge of this side of the industry it is not so simple. Did Oliver infringe on the GIG symbol? Ultimately, it will be up to a judge to decide, but there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Since 2010, I have owned a company that performs a certified gluten-free review on the recipes behind gluten-free menu items in the restaurant industry. We as a business, in full disclosure here, complete a certified gluten-free audit for the brands that retain us to do so and provide a seal for their use on the menus. The majority of the menu items/recipes we are asked to certify as gluten-free actually contain gluten on at least one ingredient.
This happens 99 percent of the time without the knowledge of the author of the recipe.
Can you as a brand or business list a simple "GF" on a menu item or recipe and not infringe on the GIG mark? On Oliver's site, it is worth noting that he also demotes dairy free by using a similar “DF” symbol when appropriate and so on. Does the Gluten Intolerance Group own the letters GF or is the problem the similarity of the font, circle and branding that is in question?
A screenshot ofjamieOliver's website and how he designated one of hisreceipesas "gluenfree"
What's a restaurant to do?
If you are looking to capture the gluten-free diner and bring them into your restaurant, it is important to go the extra mile for them and label recipes properly. For menu items, there are three companies that perform this task for a fee. One is GIG with the seal above, another is MenuTrinfo, LLC (my company) with the following logo used on recipes and menus specifically for gluten-free, and the newest company is Kitchens with Confidence (also mine). KwC's seal covers gluten and eight allergens on menus and products specifically to handle the challenge Oliver faced.
How do we let the public know that a recipe is gluten-free and dairy free with a simple logo without paying for a seal?
Finally, when it comes to products there are three companies in the US that certify gluten-free foods. Kitchens with Confidence, Gluten Intolerance Group and Beyond Celiac are all equipped to certify products that are genuinely gluten-free. All three companies require an extensive audit, monthly testing, reporting and verifying the accuracy of the free-from status. That is the crux of the lawsuit.
If the court finds that Oliver infringed and used the seal illegally, the challenge is he did so without the audit process, proper verification and without the ongoing confidence of testing and an overseeing body. Those dining out with celiac disease rely on seals and certifications to keep them safe and healthy.
Customers taking gluten testing into their own hands — literally
Diners are showing up with their own test kit. Nima, a handheld device that allows anyone to test a pea-sized amount of food on the device, lets diners know if gluten is present.
"The term gluten-free can be misleading for millions of diners whose health depends on the food not having any trace of gluten, said Shireen Yates, co-founder and CEO of Nima. "It's important for labels to be accurate, and we hope that chefs, restaurants and packaged food companies will start taking labeling more seriously, while also working to improve their processes to make gluten-free and free-from foods safer for people who need them.”
What's the lawsuit mean for brands offering GF items?
Many brands that offer a gluten-free item on a menu that is not currently certified will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the lawsuit. It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit pans out and what the repercussions will be for all using their own "GF” symbols.
Logo sources: beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-certification and kitchenswithconfidence.com
Cover photo: iStock