There is a silent (r) in the name “Chicago Mix.” The seemingly innocuous blend of flavored popcorn has provoked massive confusion in the flyover states, plus more than a few cease and desist orders. That’s how you end up with a label like the one on Candyland’s Chicago Mix. At the top, in carnie font, is the word “Chicago.” Below, in serpentine script: “Minnesota.”
If you grew up in Illinois, there’s a good chance you know Chicago mix as Garrett Popcorn’s popular duo of CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn. Garrett’s became a Windy City staple after opening a gourmet popcorn shop there in 1949, but as Inside Hook notes, the company’s true roots are in Wisconsin. The CaramelCrisp they use was actually developed at a competition the Garrett family held in Milwaukee years earlier, and that’s Badger State cheddar in the signature CheeseCorn. The family brought both south when they relocated to Chicago.
And in the beginning, they didn’t actually sell the caramel-and-cheese mix. Fans of the brand had begun intermingling the store’s two most popular flavors. Garrett’s added it to the menu in 1977. The result was a precipitous growth in popularity. Today, you can buy Garrett’s in four different U.S. states as well as Hong Kong, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.
That’s how you end up with a label like the one on Candyland’s Chicago Mix. At the top, in carnie font, is the word “Chicago.” Below, in serpentine script: “Minnesota.”
Even though Garrett’s has become synonymous with Chicago and the very idea of mixed popcorn, they are not permitted to use the name “Chicago mix” or even permutations such as “Chicago Style,” “Chi-Town Mix,” “Windy City Mix”. Though they’ve used the name intermittently throughout their 70-year history, they now market their product as Garrett Mix.
That’s because Candyland has owned the trademark to Chicago Mix since 1992. First opened in St. Paul in 1932, Candyland didn’t begin selling Chicago Mix until 1988, after co-owner Brenda Lamb attended a candy expo in, of all places, Chicago. The name was legally up for grabs, so they filed a patent and were granted the rights in 1992. That explains the label.
“If I would have put Minneapolis Mix or St. Paul Mix, would it be popular in another state?” Lamb told the Chicago Tribune in 2014. “A big-city name usually draws attention to a product. It took off incredibly fast.”
Candyland played nice for years. They politely requested that Garrett’s cease calling their product Chicago Mix in 2008, and the Chicagoans backed down for a while, but apparently the competitors reached an impasse by 2014. That year, Candyland sued to uphold its trademark against Garrett’s as well as Snyder’s and Cornfields, who sell their sweet-and-savory blend under the G.H. Cretors name at retailers like Costco and Whole Foods. All three competitors backed off, in a legal victory the Minnesota press presented as a Davidian victory over a popcorn Goliath.
Candyland maintains the trademark to this day, though there are undoubtedly a few shops in the Midwest that—knowingly or otherwise—infringe upon the small chain’s legal exclusivity. Know that, if you don’t see Minnesota’s name in script on the label, you’re not eating Chicago Mix.