Oct 27, 2022 - News

Lawsuit claims Starbucks stole idea for coffee lip balm

Illustration of the Starbucks logo applying lip balm.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A small California company is suing Starbucks, claiming the Seattle-based coffee giant stole its idea for java-flavored lip balm.

Driving the news: The suit alleges a former Starbucks executive of product development, Mesh Gelman, took a pitch meeting in 2017 with Balmuccino at which the smaller company — seeking a partnership with Starbucks — laid out its "fully realized" concept and products.

Details: The meeting was brokered, the suit claims, by the brother-in-law of one of Balmuccino’s co-founders, Dr. Öz — the celebrity TV doctor turned U.S. Republican Senate candidate for Pennsylvania.

  • Gelman asked Balmuccino representatives, especially their chemist, about the process used for creating the balms and the different flavor possibilities and made other detailed inquiries while Gelman’s assistant took "copious notes," according to the suit filed this month in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
  • Two weeks later Gelman notified the plaintiffs he was leaving Starbucks but did not discuss the status of the proposed partnership, according to the suit, which is seeking unspecified damages.
  • In 2018, Balmuccino learned that Starbucks had reached out to one of its suppliers and requested prototypes for Starbucks-branded lip balm and cases. The specifications from Starbucks were identical, the suit claims, to those laid out by Balmuccino in the 2017 pitch meeting.
  • In 2019, Starbucks launched the S’mores Frappuccino Sip Kit featuring a four-pack of lip glosses: three nude-brown-caramel shades and one iridescent white shade — respectively called Chocolicious Bliss, Campfire Spark, Graham Glam and Marshmallow Glow, the suit alleges.

What they're saying: "In other words, Defendant effectively stole Plaintiff’s product and has begun the manufacturing and sale of that product without compensating Plaintiff," the suit states.

  • Balmuccino is suing for breach of implied contract, breach of oral contract, breach of confidence and trade secret misappropriation.
  • An attorney for the limited-liability California company said in an email he had no further comment as the complaint fully captured the allegations.
  • When reached by phone on Wednesday, Gelman — who is not a named defendant in the suit — said he did not wish to comment.

What's next: A spokesperson for Starbucks said the corporation believes the claims are without merit and is looking forward to presenting its case in court.


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