01 April 2005

Granola name finally packs a punch.

We hear the Sanitarium Food Company here has started coming down hard on the users of the name "Granola", forcing many Australian companies who use it to remove the name and the offending products from supermarket and deli shelves. But as a name it has something of a spotted history and it maybe that Sanitarium may find itself on crumbly ground.

According to foodreference.com, the origins of "granola" date back to 1863 and the work of Dr. James C. Jackson of New York. Jackson developed what he called "Granula", a Graham flour formed into sheets, baked until dry, broken up, baked again and broken up into even smaller pieces. In 1855 at the Battle Creek Michigan headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, their Sanitarium director Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (later to found Kellogg's) was experimenting with foods and one of his developments was a breakfast food of whole grains, baked and ground up, which he named "Granula". He was later sued by Dr. Jackson for copying the name, so he renamed his concoction "Granola"!

Kellogg lost interest in cereals for a while, and turned his attention to nuts, and "Granola" as he named it never became a commercial success. But the Granola name was revived by the modern health food movement and it became a health food in the 1960s.

So what is it with generic names? Companies may have to check out licensing arrangements for common names. We think it's a little like wine and cheese naming. And when do names become so generic that they are no longer the property of their inventors - take band-aid and hoover, for instance. We think the difference is in the active appropriation and exploitation of the name.

Sanitarium claim they trademarked the name in 1921, so why does it take them over 80 years to act on it? Is this the forerunner to a new marketing campaign for Sanitarium Granola? We haven't heard of similar activity in the USA, but we'll let you know.

Now we're waiting for the Bircher company to claim the "Muesli" name. "Muesli" was developed in the late 19th century by Dr. Bircher-Benner, a Swiss doctor and nutritionist. And we always thought it was just a type of muesli.

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