ALDI WINS A FIGHT AGAINST WINEMAKERS ALLOWING TO SELL BRANDED CHAMPAGNE SORBETS
Aldi Süd, the giant discount supermarket chain from Germany, was allowed to carry on selling branded Champagne sorbets, notwithstanding EU protection of the name.
The Comité Inteprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (“CIPV”), a French association of champagne producers, brought proceedings before the German courts against the German discount supermarket Aldi Süd to prohibit it from selling a sorbet under the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’. That sorbet, which Aldi Süd started selling at the end of 2012, contains 12% champagne. Taking the view that the distribution of that product under that name constituted an infringement of the PDO ‘Champagne’, the association of champagne producers, brought proceedings based on Article 118m of Regulation No 1234/2007 and Article 103 of Regulation No 1308/2013, prohibiting Aldi from using that name on the frozen goods market. According to the CIPV, the distribution of the sorbet under that name infringes the protected designation of origin (hereafter, PDO) ‘Champagne’. The German Federal Court of Justice has requested a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of EU rules on the protection of PDOs.
Having analysed relevant provisions, the European Court of Justice upheld that Aldi could continue calling its product ‘Champagner Sorbet’ as it does not unfairly take advantage of the reputation that Champagne producers gain from using the iconic name. According to the Court, in the present case the use of the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ to refer to a sorbet containing champagne is liable to extend to that product the reputation of the PDO ‘Champagne’, which conveys an image of quality and prestige, and therefore to take advantage of that reputation. However, such use of the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ does not take undue advantage and, therefore, does not exploit the reputation of the PDO ‘Champagne’ if the product concerned has, as one of its essential characteristics, a taste that is primarily attributable to champagne.
It follows that the use of a PDO as part of the name under which is sold a foodstuff that does not correspond to the product specifications for that PDO but contains an ingredient which does correspond to those specifications cannot be regarded as an unfair use and, therefore, as a use against which PDOs are protected under Article 118m(2)(a)(ii) of Regulation No 1234/2007 and Article 103(2)(a)(ii) of Regulation No 1308/2013. As a consequence, it is for the national courts to determine, on the case to case basis, whether such use is intended to take unfair advantage of the reputation of a PDO.
Further, the European Court noted that if the sorbet in question did not have, as an essential characteristic, a taste which is primarily attributable to champagne, it would equally be possible to conclude that the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ on the inner or outer packaging of the product constituted a false or misleading indication and was therefore unlawful. A PDO is protected not only against false or misleading indications which are liable to create a false impression as to the origin of the product concerned, but also against false or misleading indications relating to the nature or essential qualities of the product. Where the PDO ‘Champagne’ is used directly, by being incorporated in the name of the product in question, to openly claim a gustatory quality connected with it, that does not amount to misuse, imitation or evocation within the meaning of EU rules on the protection of PDOs.