Harmless Harvest, which pioneered and leads the super-premium segment of the coconut water category, has filed a lawsuit claiming that labels and packaging for Vita Coco’s new Coco Community line are “confusingly similar” to its own.
In its complaint filed on June 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Harmless Harvest states that “‘Coco Community’ coconut water is distributed in a bottle that mimics Harmless Harvest packaging and trade dress, yet conspicuously lacks any clear identification of Vita Coco as its source” and is an “intentional decision… to confuse consumers.”
All Market-owned Vita Coco debuted Coco Community, a line of organic and fair trade coconut water sourced from Nam Hom coconuts, in March at Natural Products Expo West 2016. Billed as Vita Coco’s entry to “the artisanal coconut water” segment, the beverages are packaged in 250 mL and 500 mL clear plastic bottles with white label sleeves featuring an image of a green coconut. The bottles are topped with a green cap.
Harmless Harvest, which launched its organic and fair trade coconut water in 2011, claims that Coco Community’s packaging is “nearly identical” to its own and that a side-by-side comparison “illustrates the many non-functional, distinguishing, attributes the bottles of the two companies share.” Harmless Harvest alleges that Vita Coco has “abandoned its signature packaging and branding that it has used for over a decade” and “deliberately chose to copy the Harmless Trade Dress in an effort to trade on the goodwill, reputation, and success” of its brand.
In response to an inquiry about the lawsuit, Arthur Gallego, Vita Coco’s Global Director, Corporate Communications, stated that “All Market Inc.’s new Coco Community beverage brand and Harmless Harvest are both coconut water in a white-colored bottle, and that’s where the similarities end.”
“Almost every coconut water brand uses the iconography of a green coconut,” Gallego said. “Most use the color green in their packaging design, to complement that. Many natural, premium beverages use the color white in their packaging design, to reflect simplicity or purity. These are not ‘ownable’ aesthetics in the beverage industry. All Market Inc. has the utmost respect for Harmless Harvest as a promoter of coconut water and a competitor in the market of artisanal, organic coconut water. The company welcomes strong and fair competition, and has no intent to cause confusion among consumers.”
A spokesperson for Harmless Harvest emailed BevNET with the following statement:
“We filed the lawsuit because we believe it is important to protect the Harmless Harvest brand as well as to preserve the customer good will we have worked so hard to create. At this stage, we remain hopeful that we will be able to resolve the matter quickly and that we will be able to go back to concentrating our efforts on creating the best possible product.”
Harmless Harvest is requesting a trial by jury and for Vita Coco to be “preliminarily and permanently enjoined and restrained from unlawfully using the Infringing Trade Dress.” The company is also seeking attorneys fees, legal costs, and punitive and exemplary damages.
Packaging aside, Harmless Harvest and Coco Community processes their coconut water differently. Coco Community undergoes flash pasteurization whereas Harmless Harvest, which recently transitioned away from high pressure processing, uses a non-thermal filtration system.