Starbucks in hot water over 'duffin' drama

Customers in the UK are accusing the company of copying a small bakery chain that has been selling the doughnut-muffin combo for years.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 9, 2013 2:54PM

Duffin from Bea's of Bloomsbury (© Fiona Graham/REX Features)CNBCBy Katrina Bishop


Cult baked goods like the Cronut (a hybrid croissant-doughnut) and townie (a tart-brownie) are all the rage, so it's no surprise that bakeries are proprietorial when it comes to the next big thing.


But Starbucks' (SBUX) latest attempt -- the U.K. launch of doughnut-muffin combo "the duffin" last week -- appears to have plunged the global coffee chain back into controversy, with customers accusing it of copying a small bakery chain that has been selling the product for years.


In a post introducing the product on its website last week, Starbucks said it had come up with a way to combine the two treats.


"Inspired by our muffins, we sat together with our bakers and pondered how you could make a muffin go one step further," the post read. "Step forward the Duffin."


However, a spokesperson for Bea's of Bloomsbury, a London bakery chain with four branches, said it had been selling duffins since 2011.


"They're one of our most popular products and sell out quickly almost every day," Andre Dang told CNBC.


"They've been in our customers' consciousness for some time, which is why so many of them tweeted us to let us know that Starbucks were also selling duffins."


Social media storm

Once it became aware of the situation, Bea's was quick to defend its duffins on Twitter.


But the ensuing social media storm took even Bea's founder, Bea Vo, by surprise. Over the last two days, more than 1,000 tweets including the hashtag #DuffinGate have been sent.


"Bea has been completely overwhelmed by the support. And it's good publicity -- probably better publicity for Bea's than it has been Starbucks," Dang said. "It's nice to see the little guy winning for a change."


Controversial trademark

Bea's insisted that it had no problem with Starbucks selling duffins -- but it was angry to discover that Starbucks' supplier, Rich Products, had trademarked the name. This could mean that the small bakery could no longer call its duffin. . . a duffin.


"Bea has never claimed she invented the recipe, nor does she want to own any trademark," Dang added. "But she was concerned that Starbucks would be within their right to ask Bea to stop selling duffins, given Rich Product's trademark."


Starbucks, however, published another post on its website in response to the furor on Tuesday.


"Since launching, we have discovered there are other duffins out there in the U.K. including at Bea's of Bloomsbury, which is great news for muffin and doughnut fans across the country," the post read.


"Neither Starbucks nor Rich Products has suggested to Bea's of Bloomsbury that they will attempt to stop them selling their own Duffins."


Cronut comparisons

But despite Starbucks' attempts to "set the record straight," duffin-lovers continued to tweet in support of Bea's sweet treat, with some even calling for a boycott of Starbucks.


Starbucks, however, has not been drawn into the Twitter debate, sending only one tweet about the duffin on Monday.


More from CNBC

Tags: SBUX
Oct 9, 2013 5:01PM
This is fair turnabout, Starbucks being accused of stealing the idea of another. Why? Some years ago, megabucks corp. Starbucks threatened to sue the pants off a small Greek Orthodox monastery in the U.S. The monks tried to be self sufficient, and part of their income came from a small gift shop that they operated. They blended, bagged and sold their own coffee in that shop, and at Christmas time, they sold a coffee which they called "Christmas Blend". Starbucks claimed that IT owned the words "Christmas blend", and that this little monastery of some 20 monks was "infringing" on a copyright. How in hell can anyone own the words "Christmas blend"? Starbucks equals greed, pure and simple, regardless of how perky its "baristas" are or what it claims to do for neighborhoods that it insinuates itself into. In a similar vein, Macy's Dept. Store once sued a 100 year old general store in Maine (owned by the Macy family) for calling itself  "Macy's", after the man who founded it. The mega store said it didn't want the public to be "confused".
Oct 9, 2013 7:14PM
Oct 9, 2013 7:16PM
They should stop selling coffee too because some other jerk invented that as well.
Oct 9, 2013 4:55PM
they're allowed to tell her to stop selling, but that doesn't mean they will ask her to stop. in my opinion, starbucks shouldn't be bothered if bea continues selling the name/product and I don't think this will be a problem for either in the future. that's like mcdonalds asking burger king to stop selling hamburgers. a food is a food is a food.

My Judgment:

Starbucks should pay Bea 1 penny for each duffin sold.   You don't even have to pay any lawyers for this judgment.

Oct 9, 2013 7:13PM
Bea has Starbucks right by the Duffins.
If the Old Girl starts making to much money Starbucks will be rethinking that trademark infringement lawsuit.
Which will result in a customer backlash, and a failed lawsuit.
Is Starbucks worried?
Not a chance, they can just "up" the price of a coffee and cover the costs of any lawsuit.
Oct 9, 2013 8:49PM
OMG, get a life people.  Geez, it's a freaking pastry.  Can't you find something more important to complain about?
Oct 9, 2013 8:52PM
I wouldn't put anything past Starbucks.  
Any company that tries to take over the world by selling a rinky-dinky image based upon over-priced, inferior-quality products is beneath notice, and certainly beneath my patronage.
Oct 9, 2013 9:36PM
It was no accident that Starbucks put a trademark on the name. I don't believe for one second that Starbucks won't use the trademark to stop others selling duffins.  If they are sincere about not wanting to prosecute bakers who continue to call duffins, duffins, then Starbucks will withdraw its trademark.  Sure they will!

Meanwhile, I'm off to trademark my muffin top, which is a personally created blend of beer, bread, and bacon.

Oct 9, 2013 7:09PM
I haven't seen a duffin at Starbucks yet, and don't intend to try it.  It looks very greasy and sweet.  In fact, I wish they'd go back to their former baked goods.  People like to hate on Starbucks because they are successful, but I admire their business acumen ( and love their lattes).
Oct 9, 2013 5:31PM
Duck those greedy corporate futhermuckers .......
Oct 9, 2013 8:21PM

Starbucks blew it with their cc announcement.  Who wants to go to a place that ADVERTISES it's an easy target for robbers and thieves.  Dumb move, Star-baby.

Oct 9, 2013 7:21PM

The Starbucks cinnamon chip scone has more calories than a McDonald's quarter pounder with 480 calories
A Starbucks grande coffee has 320 milligrams of caffeine, over four times the amount of caffeine in a Red Bull
Oct 9, 2013 7:46PM

My Grama and family have been making real doughnuts, not those puffy things they've been making, for 80 years. May be I should sue them.


Oct 9, 2013 4:31PM
...a penny? Is this for your thought? Bea's business will suffer if SBUX is allowed to tell her she cannot sell HER duffins!!
Oct 9, 2013 7:35PM
A trademark can be invalidated if Bea chooses to challenge it, at least that's the rule in the US, not sure about EU regulations on trademark.
Oct 9, 2013 9:39PM
Oct 9, 2013 8:55PM
Oct 9, 2013 7:21PM
Grab your duffins and start singing!  May a great feast be had by all!
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