Chipotle and Sweetgreen may not seem all that likely to encroach on each other's turf. Both are fast-casual chains, but Chipotle serves up Mexican-inspired fare like burritos and burrito bowls, while Sweetgreen is best known for its fresh salads. That being said, Chipotle has such a major issue with a new Sweetgreen menu item that it filed an attention-grabbing lawsuit against the company this week.
The lawsuit accused Sweetgreen of copying Chipotle's name and branding with its new Chipotle-Chicken Burrito Bowl. The item features blackened chicken, lime-cilantro black beans, tomatoes, red onions, shredded cabbage, cilantro, warm wild rice, and roasted chipotle salsa.
In the lawsuit, Chipotle said that Sweetgreen was using its trademark to "sell a product that is very similar and directly competitive to Chipotle's chicken burrito bowl." Chipotle owns five different trademarks for its name, according to the lawsuit, which detailed various ways in which Sweetgreen allegedly infringed on those trademarks.
For example, Chipotle took issue with the fact that in promoting the new chicken burrito bowl, Sweetgreen featured "Chipotle" as the lead word in the menu item's name, capitalized the first letter in "Chipotle," and displayed "CHIPOTLE" in all capital letters on some occasions.
"On discovering Sweetgreen's infringing conduct, Chipotle sent a written demand that Sweetgreen cease making use of the CHIPOTLE® trademark and re-name its new product," the lawsuit said. "Sweetgreen did not respond and continued its infringing conduct."
To top it all off, Sweetgreen is running its own National Burrito Day promotion today, April 6, that gives a 50% discount on the new chicken burrito bowls, according to an email sent out to customers. Chipotle has run promotions on National Burrito Day for years, and it accused Sweetgreen in the lawsuit of trying to copy its promotion.
When contacted for comment on the lawsuit, Sweetgreen said that it has already agreed to change the name of the menu item with the goal of resolving the legal drama.
"In order to focus on the business and continue serving our guests without distraction, we have decided to rename our bowl to the Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl as part of a tentative agreement to resolve the lawsuit," the statement said. "Our mission is to bring customers healthy, elevated and craveable menu items that make you feel good. We are looking forward to putting this lawsuit behind us as we continue to connect more people to real food."
When Sweetgreen launched its chicken burrito bowl, some customers and media reports were quick to point out the similarities to Chipotle's offering.
The lawsuit specifically points out that when Sweetgreen announced the bowl on Instagram on March 30, one fan commented "Chipotle who?!" under the post.
To this comment, Sweetgreen responded: "you said it, not us."
The major difference from Sweetgreen is that—like with most Chipotle menu items—the toppings on a chicken burrito bowl are not fixed. Chipotle customers can build their own chicken bowls with their choice of rice, beans, veggies, salsa, guacamole, and other accouterments. Sweetgreen's bowl is customizable, but the basic version chooses all of the elements for customers.
Sweetgreen's decision to change the name of the bowl indicates that the lawsuit may be resolved without too much difficulty.
However, this is not the only time Chipotle has made waves in recent months. The chain officially debuted the fajita quesadilla in March after it went viral on TikTok as a secret menu hack that workers reportedly despised making. Chipotle also unveiled a new restaurant concept called Farmesa in February that exclusively serves up warm bowls made with protein, greens or grains, sauces, and other toppings. Notably, apart from the salads, warm grain bowls hold an important spot on the Sweetgreen menu.