Brooklyn Coffee Shop Claims Starbucks Caused Unicorn Confusion

This Unicorn Frappuccino Will Not Die, Ever

As food offerings turn to Instagram bait with alarming frequency, the number of stories like this seems to be on the rise. The latest: one Brooklyn coffee shop is suing Starbucks over its gimmicky Unicorn Frappuccino, claiming trademark infringement.

End Brooklyn has been serving a $9 drink called the Unicorn Latte, made with a blue-green algae harvested from a lake in Oregon and topped with coconut milk and pomegranate and goji powders. According to the Wall Street Journal, this drink accounts for a quarter of the store’s revenue, and the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, which many on social media wrongly dubbed a #unicornlatte, caused many to believe the small store’s beverage is actually a Starbucks copycat. Having never tried either of these drinks, I have to say they couldn’t sound more different, though I can understand the confusion. But is that confusion worth $10 million in damages?

Just like anything else, food can go viral online. The big difference between food and other things, like fashion or comedy or music, is that you can’t actually experience — i.e., taste — the food on the internet. In that sense, if things look the same, one might infer they are the same. And thanks to the power of social sharing, food trends and inventions that may otherwise have never crossed paths are suddenly lumped together — in this case, under the popular unicorn label. The internet makes copying a whole lot easier, but it makes discovery faster and simpler, too. It doesn’t sound like Starbucks got its idea from this small Brooklyn operation, but the large chain’s decisions have serious ripples that seriously affect other businesses.


What Rhymes with Trick Dog?

There are a few answers to this question, and Trick Dog, the notable San Francisco cocktail bar, has the answers in its newest menu, released last week. The new menu, made to look like a children’s book, is a partnership with satirical publishing site McSweeneys. The team also released a fun explanatory video about the new menu. As a bonus, they’re available for sale, with the proceeds benefiting two local charities.

This is Trick Dog’s tenth menu launch; the team introduces a new one every six months. Its first menu, a book of Pantone colors with associated cocktails, was a huge hit in San Francisco with both the Instagramming set and cocktail connoisseurs. It’s one thing to rotate seasonal ingredients, but another entirely to create, design, and launch a brand new concept twice a year. And lest this sound gimmicky, the drinks are consistently excellent; not just social media fodder. Still, this speaks to the pace at which bars and restaurants must innovate in order to keep up with the fast-paced industry. After five years, Trick Dog is still packed and exciting to a crowd with plenty of alternative bar and restaurant options.


The International Food Delivery Buzz

Recent reports say that investment interest in U.S. food delivery companies has waned after a few years of serious interest. Several large U.S. players have emerged, and they continue to innovate and compete in the space. Tech-fueled restaurant food delivery is a huge market outside of the U.S., too, as proven by the recent Delivery Hero IPO in Germany (the company is valued at €4.4 billion, that’s five billion U.S. dollars). Last week, Uber Eats announced its arrival in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte Brazil, marking 100 cities around the world. Company growth and IPOs prove the lasting impact delivery services continue to have on the restaurant industry, and, by extension, how we are spending our dining dollars, or pounds, or euros, as it were.

A few studies have looked at the distribution of our food dollars — how we spend money on what to eat. There are statistics on dining out vs. delivery and delivery vs. grocery, but I’d argue that we’re in the early days of understanding the impact that restaurant delivery will have on the larger food industry. Delivery isn’t only pizza now; people are instead seeking an in-home restaurant experience and companies are working hard to bring it to them.


Digestifs:

  • Wine Spectator released its annual list of best restaurants for wine; use the mobile app to navigate all 3,592 of them. — Wine Spectator on iTunes
  • Why not? (Wine not?) Amazon is making its own wine now — Fortune
  • A Japanese steakhouse famous for its standing-only tables will introduce chairs in the U.S. — Eater
Photo credit: Starbucks introduced its limited-edition Unicorn Frappuccino last spring. - Matt Rourke / AP Photo