Splenda producer sues Applebee’s and IHOP for faking fake sugar

Sweet Noir!

There are worse beats to serve on if you’re a private eye. Investigators working for Heartland Consumer Products fanned out nationwide, posing as customers at Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants. Their assignment: Determine whether the restaurant chains were falsely identifying the artificial sweetener they were handing out to diners as Splenda, a sucralose-based sweetener brand owned by Heartland.

The results were grim. According to Heartland’s suit against the parent company of both chains, filed in the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, 20 out of 28 Applebee’s locations and 26 out of 34 IHOP locations were trying to pass off non-Splenda sucralose sweetener as Splenda.

The suit alleges that Applebee’s and IHOP employees confirmed to customers in person that the sweetener they offered was actually Splenda. The chains also allegedly created their own packaging for the knockoff sucralose sweetener, using a yellow packet (similar to Splenda’s) to give the false impression that the chains were merely branding Splenda with their own logos.

White Lies

Heartland pursued claims for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition and trademark dilution. The suit claims that the Splenda brand was irreparably damaged, and that a preliminary and permanent injunction must be issued to protect Splenda’s pre-eminence in the market (it has been the leading low-calorie sweetener in the United States since 2003).

The suit also sought corrective advertising to remedy the misidentification of the chains’ sweeteners as Splenda and to inform customers that the sweeteners actually offered by the chains were manufactured in China – Splenda’s made-in-the-USA marketing being particularly important to Heartland.

The Takeaway

Heartland’s suit against the chains’ parent company, DineEquity, follows on the heels of a similar case it brought against Dunkin’ Donuts, which was settled under unknown terms in February 2017.

It remains to be seen whether Splenda gumshoes have still more restaurant chains in their sights.