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It’s Duke vs. Duke’s in a battle over a name

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The incorporated offspring of Eugenia Duke are feuding.

Maybe we don’t know which came first — the sandwich or the mayonnaise that made them special — but according to the Duke’s Mayonnaise website, the progeny of Eugenia Duke’s entrepreneurial spirit parted ways long ago, when each became too successful for her to keep up with both.

Now the owners of the mayonnaise brand are suing the owners of the sandwich company for the way it uses the Duke name.

Eugenia Duke sold the sandwich company to her bookkeeper after World War I and later sold her mayonnaise company to the C.F. Sauer Co. of Richmond, Va. 

The sandwich company is now Duke Sandwich Co., Duke Brands and Duke Foods. It is based in Greenville with headquarters on Main Street. Duke’s Mayonnaise remained a distinctive label among the Sauer brands. The company has a condiment plant in Mauldin. The board of the 132-year-old Sauer company, now called Sauer Brands, announced earlier this year that it was selling the enterprise to Falfurrias Capital Partners of Charlotte. 

Sauer Brands Inc. filed a complaint on Oct. 4 in Charlotte asking for a jury trial to stop the Greenville company from infringing on its name and logo and “from using in any manner packaging, labels, signs, literature, display cards, internet website, or other packaging advertising, or promotional materials, or other materials, the infringing marks or any other marks, words or names that are confusingly similar to the famous Duke’s marks.”

The complaint says Duke Foods has “embarked on an unapologetic mission to exploit for their own personal gain the goodwill and popularity that Duke’s (the mayonnaise company) has spent the last 90 years developing and building into the Duke’s brand.” The complaint particularly cites labels for Duke Foods products that it says are similar in script and color to Duke’s Mayonnaise labels. Duke Foods says some of that labeling was temporary to celebrate a century of business.

Duke Foods/Duke Brands issued a statement this week saying the company has also worked to build a good Duke name and pointed out that both companies originated from the same woman, who started out by selling sandwiches to soldiers in Greenville who were training at Camp Sevier for service in World War I.

“That is why we were blindsided Friday evening when Falfurrias Capital Partners, the new private equity owners of the company manufacturing Duke’s Mayonnaise, filed suit against us in federal court in North Carolina demanding we no longer use the name Duke,” the statement said. “Our company and Duke’s Mayonnaise have a shared history in pioneer entrepreneur Eugenia Duke, who sold both businesses in the 1920s. Both of our companies and their respective brands have coexisted until the recent sale of the C.F. Sauer Co., which was the longtime parent company of Duke’s Mayonnaise, this summer to Falfurrias Capital Partners.”

Through a spokesman, Duke Foods suggested the common name was not a concern until Falfurrias bought Sauer Brands.

“We continue to ask the question of why now? Sauer did not object when Duke Foods expanded into retail grocery more than a decade ago and Sauer then partnered with us on the 2017 celebration of the 100th anniversary of Eugenia Duke founding her company,” the spokesman said in an email today. “Sauer informed us of its alleged concerns only after discussions to sell the Duke’s Mayonnaise brand to Falfurrias Capital had begun.”

Reach Ross Norton at 864-720-1222.

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