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Frango Maker Sues, Accuses Small Competitor of Recipe Theft

April 13, 1995

SEATTLE (AP) _ For some candy makers, this is the time for chocolate Easter bunnies. But for the local maker of Frangos, it’s time for litigation.

Fredericks’s Fine Chocolates Inc. is suing a tiny South Seattle candy maker, alleging the company stole the secret recipe for the bite-size, melt-in-your-mouth chocolates.

The president of Seattle Chocolate, a privately owned enterprise founded four years ago, said his company has done no such thing.

``The recipes they claim were stolen are original. They were developed in my kitchen,″ Steve Elliott said Wednesday. ``As far as I am concerned, we are a far superior product.″

Frederick’s alleges that Seattle Chocolate is making candies that look like Frangos, are packaged in six-sided boxes like Frangos, but don’t taste like Frangos.

``(Their) products remain inferior despite attempts to simulate the qualities of chocolates manufactured using ... Frederick and Nelson’s recipes,″ says the civil lawsuit filed recently in U.S. District Court here.

Attorney Stuart Dunwoody, representing Frederick’s, says Seattle Chocolate stole the secret recipe and sells the candies in the distinctive boxes _ two things that could lead to public confusion.

Frangos chocolates go back to the 1940s, when the city’s landmark Frederick & Nelson department store began selling the candies.

When the regional chain chut down in 1992, its one-time parent company, Chicago-based Marshall Field, agreed to license the Frango name to The Bon, Inc., for sale in the region’s Bon Marche stores. Frederick’s Fine Chocolates in Kent was designated to produce the chocolates and package them in the hexagonal boxes used since 1967.

Court papers note that Bruce Reed, a 15-year F&N employee who was trained to make Frangos, resigned in March 1992 to work for Seattle Chocolate. In the months before his resignation, Reed transcribed company recipes for Frangos and obtained ``intimate knowledge″ of F&N formulas, methods and techniques, the documents say.

The lawsuit contends Seattle Chocolate used recipes identical to Frederick’s, and that Seattle Chocolate agents and distributors told customers their candies were made with the original Frango recipes while Frederick’s were not.

Elliott said his company’s recipes are so different ``it would be like comparing an omelet to a scrambled egg.″

In only one instance _ in 1993 _ did an agent misrepresent the chocolates and that agent has been dismissed, he said.

As for the hexagonal box design, Elliott said it is widely used by manufacturers because it protects the candy and is efficient for shipping.

He said he doesn’t know why his company of 25 employees has been singled out by the lawsuit when more than a half-dozen area candy makers make similar chocolates.

``Maybe we are doing the best job of it,″ Elliott said.

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