Chicken Vs. Kale: Vt. Artist Fights Chick-Fil-A Suit

Dec 6, 2011
Originally published on December 6, 2011 5:36 pm

This is a story of David and Goliath — except it's kale vs. chicken. Vermont folk artist Bo Muller-Moore is fighting charges of trademark infringement from the Atlanta-based fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

Muller-Moore runs a T-shirt business from his Montpelier, Vt., studio around the phrase "Eat More Kale." He got the idea 10 years ago from a farmer friend who wanted to promote local agriculture — and sell more kale.

Each year, Muller-Moore sells thousands of T-shirts, and at $25 a pop he makes enough to support his family.

"At a very pragmatic level, people up here really seem to love the hell out of kale — or hate it," Muller-Moore said. "So, I hadn't even really thought in terms of competition."

Then in August, to prevent any copycats, he applied for a federal trademark. That's when Chick-fil-A accused him of infringing on its trademark, "Eat Mor Chikin." The fast-food chain said that, like any company, it must defend its brand as well as its award-winning ad campaign, which features cows encouraging consumers to opt for chicken over beef. In a statement, Chick-fil-A said the law doesn't allow it to distinguish between large and small businesses.

But Muller-Moore isn't giving up — and he's got some powerful allies.

At a packed news conference in downtown Montpelier, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin stood shoulder to shoulder with Muller-Moore as they launched Team Kale, an effort to raise money for Muller-Moore's defense through — what else — T-shirt sales.

"If you think that Vermonters don't understand the difference between kale and a chicken sandwich, we invite you to Vermont, and we'll give you a lesson about the difference between a kale and a chicken," Shumlin said. "There are some very distinct features that should be noticed in that difference. Kale is a vegetable; chickens are birds. Birds create manure; kale eats manure."

Chick-fil-A managers wouldn't comment for this story, but in a statement they said the company will continue to protect its trademark until Muller-Moore stops printing his kale T-shirts and turns over his website, eatmorekale.com.

So far, Muller-Moore's decision to fight Chick-fil-A has only been great for business. Over the weekend, he got so many orders that he's struggling to keep up — he's now working 14-hour days.

Win or lose, Shumlin said the Team Kale campaign is about sending Chick-fil-A's top brass a message.

"Don't mess with Vermont. Don't mess with kale. And, Chick-fil-A, get out of the way because we are going to win this one," he said.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, we have a kind of David and Goliath story. Actually, it's a kale and chicken story. A Vermont artist is fighting charges of trademark infringement from a large fast food chain. As Vermont Public Radio's Kirk Carapezza reports, the artist is not backing down. Instead, he's gaining support.

BO MULLER-MOORE: I take a spoonful of egg and I put it on top and I use my squeegee.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: Bo Muller-Moore is screen-printing a t-shirt that says: eat more kale.

MULLER-MOORE: Rub the ink through and there you go. There's a brand new eat more kale t-shirt.

CARAPEZZA: He got the idea 10 years ago from a farmer who wanted to promote local agriculture and sell more kale. Now, each year, he sells thousands of these shirts, and at $25 a pop it's enough to support his family.

MULLER-MOORE: At a very pragmatic level, people up here really seem to love the hell out of kale or hate it. So I hadn't really even thought in terms of competition.

CARAPEZZA: But, in August, to prevent any copycats, he applied for a federal trademark. That's when the Southern fast food chain Chick-fil-A accused him of infringing on its trademark: eat mor chikin. The fast food chain says that, like any company, it must defend its brand and its award winning ad campaign. In a statement, Chick-fil-A says, the law doesn't allow it to distinguish between large and small businesses.

Muller-Moore isn't giving up and he's gaining some powerful allies.

GOVERNOR PETER SHUMLIN: Their camera range is narrow.

MULLER-MOORE: OK.

SHUMLIN: So you get used to this. It feels like...

MULLER-MOORE: I'm not bashful.

SHUMLIN: ...(unintelligible), but they're happy. Slide right in. All right.

CARAPEZZA: At a packed news conference in downtown Montpelier, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Muller-Moore as they launch Team Kale.

SHUMLIN: Don't mess with Vermont. We're going to win. Kale and Chick-fil-A, get out of the way.

CARAPEZZA: Win or lose, Shumlin says this grass roots campaign is about sending Chick-fil-A's top brass a message.

SHUMLIN: If you think that Vermonters don't understand the difference between kale and a chicken sandwich, we invite you to Vermont and we'll give you a lesson about the difference between a kale and a chicken. Kale is a vegetable. Chickens are birds. Birds create manure. Kale eats manure.

CARAPEZZA: Chick-fil-A managers wouldn't go on tape, but in a statement, they said they'll continue to protect their trademark until the artist stops printing his kale t-shirts and turns over his website, EatMoreKale.com.

So far, Muller-Moore's decision to fight Chick-fil-A has only been great for business. Over the weekend, he got so many orders that he's struggling to keep up. He's now working 14 hour days.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Vermont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.