Why And How We Trademarked Fire Cider
Holy wow, we have been totally overwhelmed and caught off guard by the response to our trademark over the last few days. There are only three of us and we don’t want to respond to anyone from a place of fear or anger.
We 100% hear your concerns! You want ‘fire cider’ available to everyone always and we agree with you! We trademarked the phrase with the intention of protecting our business from bigger players in the natural foods industry, not to persecute folks making home remedies and selling their remedies on a small scale. We sincerely apologize for the confusion and fear this has created. Currently, ‘fire cider’ is not a generic term as recognized by the USTPO. Fire Cider was not protected in any way before we registered it. That is why our application was accepted and our trademark granted.
So, what can we do? How can we safeguard the traditional use of the phrase fire cider, while at the same time protecting the businesses we have all worked to build? We need to consult with some professionals to figure out our options. We are all going to need to work together to make something positive happen. Please give us two weeks, til Feb 10th to give you a full update on what our all our options are and where we can go to resolve this in a positive way.
Thank you kindly, Amy, Dana and Brian
Dana explains where our recipe and name came from: When I was a kid, my German grandmother kept a jar of honey with chopped up onion and garlic soaking in it on a sunny windowsill. This was administered to kids for coughs and colds. During allergy season, it was time for spoonfuls of freshly grated horseradish and tales of uncle Otto on the horse farm- how horseradish was the only thing that worked for his allergies when it was haying time. I could not stand fresh horseradish, so I decided to mix it in with the honey onion syrup to make it palatable. A few years later, a country doctor that my mom worked for, suggested that I eat raw local honey and apple cider vinegar as a tonic and allergy helper. I tried that for a while, but being a “more is more” kind of guy, I remembered the honey/onion/garlic/horseradish remedy and used that with my vinegar instead of just plain honey. I liked it and it helped!
Later in life I moved to Arizona, where I had citrus trees in my yard. I read that citrus bioflavinoids are good for allergies, and that they are water soluble, so I added those to my honey and vinegar tonic. My roommate called it ‘fire cider’, so I thought hey, cool, that’s what it is. I started using ginger and hot peppers at some point because they are great. Lastly, I started adding turmeric to my tonic because I was taking Ayurvedic medicine classes and Turmeric is the bomb. I got the term ‘fire cider’ percolating through the herbalist underground,via a roommate, without attribution.
We started selling our Fire Cider at a small holiday festival in 2010 as a way to help pay the bills. It was an immediate success, and people wanted more. We soon realized that to do anything beyond selling a few bottles locally we’d have to make a lot of changes, as selling herbal remedies made in our home is in violation of numerous laws and regulations. Having a good idea and a solid, original recipe is one thing, but building a business is an enormous undertaking. When we took our business out of the small world of folk medicine and into the wider marketplace, we had to face a set of rules that is quite different than that of the village herbalist. It took us much more time and money to get to the stage where we had a legally saleable product than we had ever imagined. Business insurance, local, state and FDA regulations and inspections, taxes, purchasing a bar code and nutrition panel, lab testing, renting an office, rent and training costs at a certified commercial kitchen, the list goes on. All of these steps must be done, must be paid for, and are only the minimum requirements, offering no benefit other than allowing us to legally start making our product. We were full-time volunteers for 2 years, investing every last cent back into the growth of our business. Early on, while giving out samples at a coop in Albany, we were approached by a trademark attorney. He specializes in helping small-scale food and wellness businesses navigate and use the dense legal framework. He was a huge fan of Fire Cider and asked several questions about our product, business and future plans. He remarked that our product was unlike anything he’d ever heard of. We were creating a new market, and we were perfect candidates for a trademark.
Trademarks are conferred by the federal government on names of products which are used in commerce. Fire Cider is the name of our product, and without a trademark we were vulnerable to the attention of larger companies. We are not interested in suing anyone, especially herbalists working outside of the commercial marketplace. The health food industry has a bright shiny image, but it is still an industry. The Krafts, Pepsis and General Mills are out there and employ an army of people to hunt for new products and ideas. Without a trademark, we would be subject to imitation or the very real possibility of a national company copying our brand name AND trademarking it themselves, thus putting our entire business and livelihood at risk.
After researching and discussing our options with our trademark attorney, we filed with the government. The process of assigning a trademark involves, among other things, searching for previous or existing commercial uses. When we started our business, we could find no other company making and selling a commercial product called Fire Cider. The federal government could not find any either, and so we received our trademark like thousands of other business doing their due diligence to safeguard their work. Our work being the national brand and the entirely new market for vinegar based health tonics we have created over the past 3 years.
When we first started selling our product, we did a lot of in person demos, festivals and markets. Giving away free samples and engaging people was a very effective way to spread our message. Between the three of us, we have given out over 250,000 samples in the past three years, 200 gallons of free samples in the past year alone. Of the hundreds, and then hundreds of thousands of people we met, only a small fraction had ever heard of drinking vinegar for health. In rural parts of New England maybe one person in twenty was familiar with this idea, in Boston and NYC, that number was more like one in a hundred. Likewise, calling prospective coops and health food stores was met with almost unanimous confusion when describing our product. There were perhaps 2 or 3 coops in northern Vermont where the idea was not completely foreign, and Fire Cider was comparable to a variety of traditional tonics local to the area. In any event, we have spread our product far and wide, and for all of our thousands of customers, Fire Cider refers to a specific taste and our specific recipe. That name, our brand name, is what a trademark is meant to protect.
Unfortunately, the protection afforded by a trademark is not without its costs. As our attorney explained, holding a trademark means we must be vigilant as well. As mentioned earlier, when we started our company we could find no one else selling a commercial product called Fire Cider. One year ago, an online search turned up 4 “fire cider” products on Etsy alone. Earlier this month, Etsy listed a total of eleven, and in the past week three more were added. These recipes all varied broadly in ingredients, size, and cost. This is detrimental to our brand, as it dilutes the image of quality and affordability which we have worked so hard to achieve. It was also clear that new companies were entering the market, using the same name and our hard work to sell their product. After again meeting with our attorney, we were urged to contact Etsy’s legal department. We are not suing anyone, we don’t want to sue anyone, and we don’t have any plans to sue anyone. We are not chasing down herbalists, we are not demanding people change their recipe or ingredients, we are only asking those herbalists selling commercially to respect our name and trademark. As a business we are a legal entity, and we have followed best business practices and the advice of the legal community. We did not write the law, but we ignore it at our peril. We are asking all those who want to sell commercially to change the name within that commercial setting, that is all.
We realize that for some herbalists, the name we chose for our tonic is considered a generic term. We arrived at our recipe and name organically, as described above. We have spread this idea well beyond the herbal community and into the public at large. Because of our years of hard work, when the general public talks about Fire Cider, they are referring to our brand. The upside of this is that we are creating an entirely new market for vinegar tonics. We are creating awareness for the incredible powers of natural remedies and whole foods medicine. We are creating a rising tide of interest in this market, and it has and will continue to lift all boats. Folks are certainly welcome to participate in enjoying this upswell.
It is our goal to spread the word about the power of whole foods and herbal medicine by making and promoting the highest quality product we can.
Brian Huebner, Dana St. Pierre and Amy Huebner