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don’t be confused. we are not conagra

October 1, 2009
by
Monique's Al Dente Pasta

Monique's Al Dente® Pasta

I am not Marie Callender. She has passed away while I am still alive and cooking. She is best known for pies while I am best known for pasta. Marie Callender is a famous brand name owned by ConAgra while Monique Deschaine is simply the name of the person who started Al Dente, Inc. and makes Al Dente® Pasta, the brand. Nevertheless, there is confusion brewing.  Not around the names Monique Deschaine and Marie Callender, but rather Al Dente® Pasta and Pasta Al Dente, our close relatives.

If you are reading this blog, you know my story and you know my brand—Al Dente® Pasta. Since 1981, we’ve been the little pasta company that has never given up.  We started with an idea and a great recipe and despite one obstacle after another, defied the odds to still be in business today. To top it off, many people consider Al Dente® Pasta their favorite pasta and often take the time to call or write to tell us.

Last April, people started calling us for other reasons. Yesterday’s example. A trucking company called to solicit our business. This would not have been unusual except for the fact that his company ships frozen foods and our product doesn’t need refrigeration. Finally, we realized that he thought we were Marie Callender’s Pasta Al Dente.  Not a big deal, other than taking time out of our day to explain the situation yet one more time.  Even Phyllis Marra, mother of our first employee, wife of our first investor, saw the Marie Callender ads on TV and thought we all of a sudden were going from word-of-mouth advertising to a million dollar campaign. In my dreams!

OK.  I’ll get to the point. ConAgra has been heavily promoting a line of frozen pasta entrees called Pasta Al Dente.   No, it is not a figment of your imagination–you do see the little circle R by the name Al Dente on every bag of our pasta.  Yes, that  does mean that we have the registered trademark for the name Al Dente for Pasta. Not for sauce, which is why our sauce is called, Monique’s. Not for restaurants, not for cookbooks, not for dentists, not for bump shops, not for recipes. We understand that and accept it. We were granted the federal registration for pasta. This is when you say to me, “That’s your name.  That’s not fair. They can’t do that.”  The only thing I can say is, “I wish it was that simple.” And, imagine how we feel!

I will keep you posted but needed to make sure that everyone knows: I am not Marie Callender. Al Dente, Inc. is not ConAgra. Al Dente® Pasta is not Pasta Al Dente. So, don’t be confused.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. wendy permalink*
    October 2, 2009 1:21 am

    Go Monique!

  2. October 2, 2009 5:25 am

    It is a damn shame that years of hard work and sacrifice can be co-opted by corporate giants on a whim. You and your outstanding products deserve better treatment.

    • Monique permalink*
      October 2, 2009 12:53 pm

      Thanks for your validating comment.

  3. Nichole permalink
    October 2, 2009 2:11 pm

    I experienced the same confusion. I am a big fan of Al Dente so when I saw the products in the store I assumed they were Al Dente and made a major investment (at Wal Mart). I was corrected by our sales rep. (KW). Al Dente stands on its own name. Keep up the great job.

    Tell Nanette I said hello!

    Nichole

    • Monique permalink*
      October 2, 2009 6:28 pm

      Wow. Another example that even fans like you, who know our company well, are buying the Marie Callender product, not noticing that it is Marie Callender. In this case, it seems that our good name helped sell Marie Callender’s pasta. I wonder how many times that is happening.

  4. October 2, 2009 2:18 pm

    bring in the dogs monique! you have it in you to right this wrong….and get national publicity for your little company while your dogs are attacking the big guy. the press would love it and eat it up (sic).

  5. Wow permalink
    October 2, 2009 2:19 pm

    Hopefully they have their PR team monitoring the web and they’ll come across this and hear you loud and clear!

    • Monique permalink*
      October 2, 2009 6:31 pm

      I hope so too. I just want to open up dialogue.

  6. Joe from Kitchen Chick permalink
    October 2, 2009 6:52 pm

    Honestly? I think I’d open up with a cease and desist letter, signed by an attorney. Likelihood of confusion in the marketplace is what you need to demonstrate, and you’ve got that. You also do have an obligation to defend trademarks if you want to keep them, so you don’t want to sit passively while they use it. Which is exactly what they are likely to do, because if you let them do it long enough you’ll have no recourse.

    Your trademark is very narrow, and it kind of has to be given what it is, but it sounds like they’re stepping directly on it.

    (Not a lawyer, but I do have a J.D. from one of the eight top five law schools and I have studied intellectual property…)

    • Monique permalink*
      October 3, 2009 11:19 pm

      Thanks for your interest and opinion. I want to reassure everyone that we are getting legal advice.

  7. Jimmy D permalink
    October 3, 2009 12:37 am

    We never knew know Marie but we know (and love) you Monique and we wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. Al Dente Pasta is our favorite pasta made by some of our favorite people. Damn big business arrogance.

    • Monique permalink*
      October 3, 2009 3:23 pm

      Aww… that’s so sweet!

  8. October 3, 2009 6:33 pm

    I didn’t think that a descriptive term with a dictionary definition related to the product or service (as in the case of al dente pasta or pasta al dente) could be trademarked? Doesn’t a term need to be distinctive to be trademarked? I’m sympathetic for your struggles as a small business trying to deal with a much larger competitor, but it seems to me that you may have chosen an indefensible trademark.

    • Monique permalink*
      October 3, 2009 10:58 pm

      I really appreciate your comment because it gives me an opportunity to explain to others what it is that you are referring to. In 1986, when we applied for the trademark, we were denied for the reason you mentioned. In May 2004, we applied again, and this time Al Dente, Inc. was granted U.S. Trademark 3,001, 022. This was because, by 2004 we had been in business for 23 years, were well known all around the country, and were granted the trademark based on continued usage. Since receiving the trademark, no company has disputed our trademark nor has any company used it in a way that was confusing like the Marie Callender/ConAgra/Pasta Al Dente is appearing to be to our customers.

  9. ken large permalink
    October 4, 2009 5:55 pm

    Completely outrageous !!! You must have already contacted your representative in congress . Someone in your network probably knows Michael Moore and this is the kind of thing he loves . NPR , although I think they’re chicken shit . 60 minutes ” David & Golliath”. LollaPalooza successfully prevented someone from using that term because it was copywrited (sp?) in spite of it being created by a composer for the Broadway show A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court . Radio interviews , WUOM , WDET . Lana Pollick just retired , but I know people who might be able to pick her brain . This is an affront to commerce in Michigan and might be a cause someone would want advocate for . This really pisses me off ! more later , ken

  10. susan little permalink
    October 4, 2009 11:20 pm

    I found out the hard way as I did not have my glasses on when making a purchase of the M.C. pasta al dente thinking it was our wonderful local Al Dente brand branching out! All I saw was the Al Dente lettering which is close to your lettering. Easily confused! So wrong and illegal on the part of Marie Callender. I will be sure to tell everyone I know about this. If everyone does the same, M.C. will eventually be forced to change the name.

    • Monique permalink*
      October 5, 2009 12:28 am

      This is not good. When people like you, who know our brand so well, are making this mistake, it shows that there really is confusion. It’s hard to believe that even you bought Marie Callender’s thinking it was ours! We appreciate you taking the time to bring up the situation to your colleagues and clients as you know so many people.

  11. Cherie Hrusovsky permalink
    October 5, 2009 12:35 pm

    I was introduced to your pasta this summer while visiting Ann Arbor, Michigan and love it. I really enjoyed the tour of your factory and meeting you and the family. Your product is wonderful. I have shared your name and brand with many of my friends here in the suburbs of Chicago. Though I have not yet noticed the Marie Callendar’s brand – you can be sure I will make every effort to buffer the confusion.

    • Monique permalink*
      October 5, 2009 3:19 pm

      We appreciate your word-of-mouth advertising. It’s because of people like you that our business has grown and thrived. Grassroots methods have always worked for us. That’s how we took our business from the days when we used to work through the night to make 20 cases to where we are now. With the internet at our disposal, grassroots efforts are easier, quicker and more effective so we should be able to get our message out a lot easier than 28 years ago when we started Al Dente, Inc.

  12. Gary permalink
    October 12, 2009 4:50 pm

    It IS confusing! I love Al Dente pasta – YOURS not Marie’s. Makes me want to avoid all M.C. products, even the pies 😦 C’mon ConAg- do the right thing and stop the confusion!!

    • Monique permalink*
      October 12, 2009 5:07 pm

      I’m optimistic that we will be able to work this out with ConAgra. I can imagine that it is as important to them as it is to us.

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