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Old Bay's legal battle against a paleo-friendly competitor is getting spicy

Variety is the spice of life, but not if it's copyright infringement.
New Bae seasoning versus Old Bay spice
/ Source: TODAY

McCormick & Company's iconic Old Bay seasoning has no love for some up-and-coming competition on the spice market: Primal Palate’s New Bae spice blend. Yes, that's bae not bay. Thanks millennials.

On Monday, the seasoning giant filed a lawsuit in Maryland federal court against the new paleo brand for copyright infringement. And things between the brands are getting really spicy, really fast.

New Bae seasoning versus Old Bay spice
Old Bay was originally marketed as crab seasoning, but now people shake it over everything from salads to soups to dips and chips.Old Bay

McCormick bought the Old Bay recipe, which was first developed in 1939, nearly 30 years ago. Primal Palate, an organic company which gained steam via Instagram, launched its competing spice in October 2017.

Primal Palate, which prides itself on full transparency in its products, shared every ingredient in the New Bae blend. It contains himalayan pink salt, paprika, celery, black pepper, ancho chili powder, cayenne, cardamom, allspice, mace and bay leaves.

McCormick, which keeps its recipes a bit more secret, advertises Old Bay as a similar mix of herbs, including celery salt, paprika, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.

The two spices do smell and taste very similar, despite New Bae’s non-GMO, gluten free, organic and 100 percent kosher certifications. The packaging is also very different, with Old Bay Seasoning residing in bright yellow tins, while New Bae lives in small glass bottles.

When husband and wife co-founders Bill and Hayley Staley first released the New Bae mix, they wrote in a blog post that they, “didn’t intend to set up a terrible pun with this blend.” Rather, they contended that the spice really was just a “sweetheart blend” in their kitchen.

Regardless of that initial post, the pair, and their lawyer, now admit that the name was a “nod” to the Old Bay predecessor.

Monday’s filing marks just another chapter in the competitors’ legal histories.

When Primal Palate filed for a U.S. patent in November 2017 to register New Bae as a trademarked organic spice, McCormick immediately filed an opposition to the application.

And back in April, the industry giant sent a cease-and-desist letter to Primal Palate as the spice came to market.

The newest legal development explains why McCormick sees New Bae as a threat to Old Bay’s name and reputation, and may ultimately result in causing consumer confusion. The spice titan is now demanding that New Bae be pulled from the market and that all New Bae profits be paid to McCormick.

For Primal Palate, losing this case has the potential to take a significant toll on the small business, so the Staleys took to Instagram Wednesday to ask New Bae fans for help.

“We do not see any merit to [McCormick’s] claims,” Primal Palate wrote. “The way we named [New Bae] was meant to differentiate it, not to mention we don’t even know what the ingredients are in Old Bay.”

The organic spice maker concluded by writing, “We hope you all will support us during this time.”

If Primal Palate loses, Old Bay won't have to worry about cozying up to New Bae on store shelves — but consumers will lose access to a tasty, organic spice blend.

A hearing date for this case has not been set in Maryland federal court.