Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, officially became a federal holiday in 2021.
The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed the country’s last remaining enslaved people they were freed. The announcement came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
While the recognition of the holiday today includes celebrations about emancipation, the holiday also recognizes current racial inequities and calls for change.
In late May, several posts online (here, here and here) claimed Walmart was selling a Juneteenth-themed ice cream under the company’s Great Value brand. The posts criticized Walmart for profiting off the holiday, with comments such as: “We had to know with making this a federal holiday, corporations were going to swoop in and make a run at our dollars,” and, “I’m pretty sure we didn’t ask for this.”
Did Walmart sell a “Juneteenth” ice cream?
- United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO)
- Walmart Corporation
- Local Walmart stores
Yes, Walmart sold a Juneteenth-themed ice cream under its Great Value brand. The company has since pulled the product from shelves.
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Walmart did sell a Juneteenth ice cream under the company’s Great Value label.
"Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope," the label on the red velvet-cheesecake flavored ice cream said.
Great Value, a food brand owned and operated by Walmart, distributed the ice cream, which was branded as a “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth” flavor, a mix of swirled red velvet and cheesecake flavors.
VERIFY reached out to Walmart and asked if it sold the “Juneteenth” ice cream and if the product had been removed from stores.
“Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence,” the company told VERIFY on May 24. “However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize. We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate.”
VERIFY called two different Walmart stores, each of which said it was not on their shelves.
Besides selling the ice cream flavor, the Juneteenth branding from Walmart also raised concerns about why and how the name was trademarked. “No problem with selling Juneteenth-inspired stuff,” reads a tweet from @edelwusa. “Problem with Walmart even applying for a trademark or copyright on ‘Juneteenth.’”
Although there is a trademark logo present on the Great Value ice cream, Walmart Corporation itself did not trademark Juneteenth as a holiday, according to trademark documents. A trademark for Juneteenth “flavor enhancers” was submitted to the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) from the Balchem Corporation, a chemical manufacturing company that filed for the trademark on September 2, 2021. The trademark has since been labeled “dead" by the agency, with an “abandonment date” listed as May 23, 2022, according to the latest official status update online.
There’s a difference between a registered trademark, which is denoted with a R and circle around it, and the “™” filing, which is what the Great Value ice cream used. The R symbol indicates that the word is a legally registered trademark for the product, which has more rights and protections, according to the USPTO.
“You become a trademark owner as soon as you start using your trademark with your goods or services,” the agency’s trademark and patent information page reads. “You establish rights in your trademark by using it, but those rights are limited, and they only apply to the geographic area in which you’re providing your goods or services. If you want stronger, nationwide rights, you’ll need to apply to register your trademark with us.”
The “™” symbol is not legally protected and doesn’t have the same scope of restrictions for use. While many companies use it to show they are in the process of filing an application for the trademark, it doesn’t mean it’s their approved and registered trademark by the USPTO.
“A common misconception is that having a trademark means you legally own a particular word or phrase and can prevent others from using it,” says the USPTO on their patent and trademark website. “However, you don’t have rights to the word or phrase in general, only to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services.”
According to its website, Balchem Corporation was founded in 1967 “by a group consisting of entrepreneurs, investors, and Dr. Leslie Balassa, an expert in the field of encapsulation.” VERIFY could not confirm whether or not Balchem Corporation works with Great Value. VERIFY reached out to Balchem Corporation for comment but did not receive a reply as of June 6.
There are two more live trademarks for “Juneteenth,” according to the USPTO. One is for a hashtag, currently filed by Harold of Kingdom Builders Financial Group. Another is for party favors by eBashBox, a Black-owned business also known as Celeplated.