Uncle Si’s Iced Tea maker sues Duck Commander

Posted at 8:21 PM, Jan 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-16 06:53:12-05

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Uncle Si of the Duck Commander clan is famous for sipping his bottomless cup of iced tea.

But the makers of Uncle Si’s Iced Tea say he doesn’t drink it enough, and that’s why they’re suing Duck Commander.

Chinook USA, which makes iced tea and other beverages, is blaming its recent bankruptcy filing on the duck call company that stars in the A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District court in Louisville, Kentucky, accuses the Duck Commander family of being “so obsessed by self-promotion and self-gratification” that they failed to promote some of their branded products, as required by contract.

Uncle Si’s Iced Tea is a preferred beverage of the gray-bearded Vietnam veteran Silas Robertson, a star on “Duck Dynasty.”

“There’s only one iced tea that carries my name,” says Uncle Si on a web site dedicated to the drink, which is “guar-on-tead to make you smile.”

But Chinook USA, based in Prospect, Kentucky, isn’t smiling at all. The company claims that Duck Commander hasn’t done enough to successfully promote its drinks, or to satisfy the $1.7 million worth of licensing fees it paid Duck Commander.

Under the terms of its agreements, Duck Commander was supposed to do photo shoots, media interviews, special appearances and planned meetings to promote the tea. But the lawsuit says that when Chinook sought information about promotional TV appearances, Duck Commander told them, “Si’s not available.”

The company expects to lose more than $5 million, which forced it to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

“We’ve got two million bottles of iced tea sitting in warehouses,” said J. Bruce Miller, the Louisville-based lawyer representing Chinook USA.

Phil Robertson founded Duck Commander in the 1970s as a duck call manufacturer in Monroe, La. The show “Duck Dynasty” chronicles the success of this business, which Robertson runs with his sons and other family members.

Their fame — aided in part by their folksy demeanor and easily recognizable ZZ Top-style beards — helps them promote a diverse selection of branded products in stores like Walmart, Cabela’s and Target.

Some products, like Mossberg shotguns, camouflage caps and hunting DVDs, are relevant to the outdoor lifestyle.

Others, not so much. The company sells table lamps, coffee cups, Christmas ornaments, baby onesies, religious books, loofas and other non-hunting items, bearing the Robertson family likeness and their slogans, or pictures of ducks or American flags.

In the clearance section of Duck Commander’s web site, bobble head figures of Uncle Si and other characters are for sale, discounted to $15 from $25. The whole family of five Robertson bobble heads is marked down to $50 from $124.75.

Chinook USA said all its marketing is tied to the licensing agreement with Duck Commander.

The lawsuit says the “obsession with exponentially growing royalty payments” caused Duck Commander to breach its exclusive licensing commitment with Chinook “whose very existence and financial life was dependent upon its only licensing agreement.”

Duck Commander was not available for comment.