Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Starbucks says it just invented the "Duffin." But a well-known tea shop has been selling them for a while.
UK-based Starbucks recently announced a new addition to the world of hybrid pastries -- the "Duffin," a jelly-filled, sugar-covered cross between a donut and a muffin.
But it turns out they didn't invent the Duffin, and the claim is making local pastry purists mad. You can trace the idea back to a decade-old Nigella Lawson cookbook. It was later popularized by Bea Vo, who sells it in her popular Bea's of Bloomsbury tea rooms. Vo says on her company's Facebook page that her customers at one location started to call them Duffins after her cookbook was published. "The name stuck," she said.
Vo didn't copyright the name. Now, Rich Products, the international food conglomerate that supplies Duffins to Starbucks locations, has. That worries Vo who asks the Guardian, "can we afford to fight this trademark and any future cease-and-desist letter? No."
Caught in the craze of merging pastry concepts along with their names, it's possible that Starbucks naively thought they were the first to come up with the Duffin. But Vo is suspicious, noting that a Google search for the concept comes up with "several dozen refrences" to her product. On top of that, the Starbucks version, like Vo's, emphasizes its use of nutmeg and buttermilk, ingredients she says "the British baking lexicon isn't heavy on."
On the UK blog of the Seattle-based coffee chain, Starbucks says that since they've launched the product, they've "started to hear about a few other versions out there." The company says it won't use the trademark to stop Bea's of Bloomsbury from selling their own duffins.
Starbucks is already unpopular with many Brits for failing to pay corporate taxes five years in a row. After a public backlash, it paid 5 million pounds this summer and plans to pay the remaining 5 million owed this year. One commenter on the Starbucks UK Facebook page managed to combine the company's two biggest PR mishaps in England so far into this graphic: