This is a story of David and Goliath — except it's kale vs. chicken. Vermont folk artist Bo Muller-Moore is fighting charges of trademark infringement from the Atlanta-based fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.
Muller-Moore runs a T-shirt business from his Montpelier, Vt., studio around the phrase "Eat More Kale." He got the idea 10 years ago from a farmer friend who wanted to promote local agriculture — and sell more kale.
Each year, Muller-Moore sells thousands of T-shirts, and at $25 a pop he makes enough to support his family.
"At a very pragmatic level, people up here really seem to love the hell out of kale — or hate it," Muller-Moore said. "So, I hadn't even really thought in terms of competition."
Then in August, to prevent any copycats, he applied for a federal trademark. That's when Chick-fil-A accused him of infringing on its trademark, "Eat Mor Chikin." The fast-food chain said that, like any company, it must defend its brand as well as its award-winning ad campaign, which features cows encouraging consumers to opt for chicken over beef. In a statement, Chick-fil-A said the law doesn't allow it to distinguish between large and small businesses.
But Muller-Moore isn't giving up — and he's got some powerful allies.
At a packed news conference in downtown Montpelier, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin stood shoulder to shoulder with Muller-Moore as they launched Team Kale, an effort to raise money for Muller-Moore's defense through — what else — T-shirt sales.
"If you think that Vermonters don't understand the difference between kale and a chicken sandwich, we invite you to Vermont, and we'll give you a lesson about the difference between a kale and a chicken," Shumlin said. "There are some very distinct features that should be noticed in that difference. Kale is a vegetable; chickens are birds. Birds create manure; kale eats manure."
Chick-fil-A managers wouldn't comment for this story, but in a statement they said the company will continue to protect its trademark until Muller-Moore stops printing his kale T-shirts and turns over his website, eatmorekale.com.
So far, Muller-Moore's decision to fight Chick-fil-A has only been great for business. Over the weekend, he got so many orders that he's struggling to keep up — he's now working 14-hour days.
Win or lose, Shumlin said the Team Kale campaign is about sending Chick-fil-A's top brass a message.
"Don't mess with Vermont. Don't mess with kale. And, Chick-fil-A, get out of the way because we are going to win this one," he said.