What’s in a name? Food for thought...


So you’ve won the lottery, bought a vineyard, successfully grown a bumper crop of grapes and managed to produce a delicate-yet-stimulating sparkling wine – and now it’s time to get some labels printed up and sell your bubbly.

But hold on a minute: don’t even think about calling it “Champagne” unless your vineyard is actually in the French region of that name, or you are very likely to find yourself in court.

In fact, don’t use the C-word if you are selling sparkling elderflower drink, perfume or biscuits either – because the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) will take a very dim view of that as well.

The attempt to preserve the integrity of the iconic fizzy wine is probably the most-famous international example of a geographical legal designation being applied to a food or drink.

It is far from being the only one, however. There are many examples, ranging from fish to cheese and from beef to booze.

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Arbroath Smokies

One of the best-known British foods with protected geographical status is the Arbroath Smokie, a smoked-haddock treat that originated near the town of Abroath on the east coast of Scotland.

Bob Spink – whose family have been making smokies for five generations - explained how he banded together with his fellow producers to seek the designation back in the early noughties. "I was aware other people in other areas were producing products which they were calling Arbroath Smokies," he said. "They were being produced as far away as Cornwall. We as producers were concerned about that.”

It took Bob and his fellow smokers two years to win protected status from the EU, but he says they felt the benefits straight away.

“The most immediate impact was wider knowledge of what it is, because of the media coverage. That in itself is good for the product. I was also interested in spin-offs such as tourism, with people coming to the town to buy the smokies – and that has definitely happened.”

And while there is nothing in the designation to stop others selling non-Arbroath smokies (or just “smokies”), Bob says that hasn’t happened. “Most consumers don’t want an imposter product, they want the real thing. They are looking for uniqueness and genuine products.”

How does protected status work?

Protected designations can take three forms: Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Traditional Specialty Guarantee (TSG).

There is a degree of arbitrariness whether products have sought PGI or PDO status – but generally fish, beer, cider and pastry products fall into the PGI category – along with some meats and cheeses.

If given status, vegetables, cream, some meats and most cheeses are classed as PDOs. In the case of many PGIs, it is the geographical creation of the product that is important – not the origin of each individual component ingredient. Cornish pasties are a good example of this.

Meanwhile PDOs stipulate that Jersey Royal potatoes have to originate from Jersey and Yorkshire forced rhubarb has to be grown in Yorkshire, for example.

TSGs usually apply to a traditional method of production – with the only example granted in the UK being traditionally farmed Gloucestershire Old Spots pork.

The cost of using a protected name

There are no recorded cases of PGIs, PDOs or TSGs having been legally enforced in the UK courts, but the aforementioned CIVC has frequently taken action to protect the use of the name “Champagne”.

The most famous example is probably a 1993 court ruling that saw the confiscation and destruction of £10m worth of publicity material and packaging for Yves Saint Laurent’s “Champagne” perfume.

The French courts had decided that the fashion house’s chosen name for its scent infringed the PDO granted to the famous wine – because it was neither a sparkling wine OR from the Champagne region.

The importance of being Cornish

Back to the UK though, and the success of Bob and his fellow artisans with the smokie has encouraged more British producers to follow suit. Last year Cornish pasties were granted PGI status by the EU after a long campaign.

Mark Muncey, chairman of the Cornish Pasty Association, said: “This way we can guard the reputation of the Cornish pasty from those seeking to exploit it for their own profit and safeguard the future of the Cornish pasty-making industry.

“The status also benefits the Cornish economy as more business is likely to gravitate towards the country, which will increase the number of jobs and strengthen the local rural economy as many ingredients are sourced directly from local producers.

“We haven’t had to take legal actions against imitations. In fact, the response from the public has been great and they seem to monitor the products for us.

“We don’t oppose other producers making pasties, all we ask is they label them appropriately and don’t call them Cornish if they are not made in Cornwall.”

There are currently 13 applications in the UK asking for protected geographical status to be granted for products including Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, Scottish wild salmon, Lincolnshire sausages and traditional Bramley apple pie filling.

Stay true to your roots

But, as with all things in life, you need to be careful what you wish for – as brewer Scottish & Newcastle found out when it successfully gained protected status for Newcastle Brown Ale.

There was a flurry of publicity as the one-time student favourite gained protected status. However, the PGI specified that the beer had to be produced within the city of Newcastle – which became a problem for the brewer when it decided to move production across the River Tyne to nearby Gateshead (which, as any local will be keen to remind you, is not in Newcastle).

The move to Gateshead happened in 2005 and the PGI was officially revoked by the EU two years later. This overlap highlights the fact that such designations are not a “law” enforced by the EU or national governments, but something closer to a trademark or copyright – except without an “owner”.

Intellectual property specialist Peter Mansfield of Coller IP suggests that the designations are “most closely analogous to a certification mark such as the woolmark”.

Scottish and Newcastle may have been in breach of the PGI for these two years, but since it was the original applicant and the only producer of Newcastle Brown Ale it was unlikely to sue itself.

The beer still retains its iconic name, despite not being brewed in Newcastle any more. However, for anyone tempted to try to move in on the terminology an intellectual property lawyer might be advisable.

Article by Stacey King