Company battles pork pie brand protectionism

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Melton mowbray, Stilton cheese, Melton mowbray pork pie association, Northern foods

Will the real Melton Mowbray pork pie please stand up? A court
battle over the use of the name for a pork pie has evolved as a
ground breaking case in the UK and also as an example of the
problems the EU's geographical indications system can pose for
manufacturers.

Facing a situation in which it would lose a growing market for its Melton Mowbray pies, Northern Foods has taken the UK government to the court to try and block a geographical indication (GI)application to protect local makers of the pork product. The EU's GI regime is meant to protect local food producers across the bloc from having their traditional brand names used by processors elsewhere. The system has shut out producers who were usingwhat they thought was a generic name for their products. Since its introduction in 1992 about 700 foods and drinks have been approved for GI protection, with another 300 applications underconsideration. About 40 per cent of the bloc's citizens say they are willing to pay a 10 per cent premium for specially designated products, according to a Commission survey. As in the case of feta, GI protection means producers in Denmark and France will lose the right at the end of next year to call their cow-milk cheese product manufactured outside of Greece"feta". The EU wants international recognition for the system and has applied to World Trade Organisation to get it ratified. That application is being contested by the US, which claims the system isnothing but another form of trade protection. The EU's rules require that GI approved areas stick to the specifications outlined in their applications, including the product's recipe, and keeping production and sourcing within a definedgeographical area. Once approved other producers outside the GI area may not use the name. Melton Mowbray's local producers are applying for protected geographical indication (PGI) status under the GI system. For PGI products, the geographical link must occur in at least one of the stages ofproduction, processing or preparation. Northern Foods fears that giving PGI status to the Melton Mowbray pork pie would hurt food producers like itself and open the door to other applications for other products. "If this PGI is given, this would be the first recipe based product to receive such status in the UK and could open the door to similar applications for products such as Yorkshire Puddingsand Cornish Pasties," the company stated. The company rejected a request for an interview with FoodProductionDaily.com but instead sent a four-page document outlining its position. In its submission Northern Foods is objecting to the proposed area being designated as falling under the protected status. The company notes that the proposed designated area of production covers1,800 sq. miles, including the town of Melton Mowbray, Leicester, Nottingham and Northampton. Northern Foods claims the designation of the large area is also meant to protect one local producer with a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie production site within the proposed area outside of the town,including a factory in Leicester city. The producer, Samworth Brothers, holds a 55 per cent share of the £50m (€74m) market for the pies. Northern Foods, which has produced pork pies labelled as "Melton Mowbray" since the 1800s, holds another 25 per cent of the market, while GEO Adams and Kerry Foods each hold six per cent. The Melton Mowbray brand is the fastest growing section of the UK's total £130m pork pie market, Northern Foods claims. The company produces its brand of the pies at plants in Wiltshire andShropshire, outside the designated area. "What defines a Melton Mowbray pork pie is its quality, style, ingredients and presentation, not the location of its production," the company claims. However, Matthew O'Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pie Association, disagrees. He says that other pie producers using the name use cured pork in their recipes, giving the meat a pinklook. Local producers use fresh pork, which means the meat has a gray look. Local producers also bake their pies free standing, giving it a unique shape. Pie producers outside the area use a metal hoopto give their pies a standardised look. "Our method also burns off the outside fat, giving the pies a crumbly texture," O'Callaghan told FoodProductionDaily.com. He is a vegetarian and is also a locally electedcouncillor for Melton Mowbray. He notes that under the GI system the size of the area does not matter and he believes Northern Foods will fail in its application. "The whole of Greece is a protected area for feta production," he said. "In the case of Melton Mowbray pies our market share has been eroded by non-traditionalproducers." The association's research indicates that demand for pies with the town's name is rising at five per cent a year and is commanding a premium price. He suggests that Northern Foods could easilyswitch production to one of the company's processing plants in the area and thus keep using the name. "This is a test case for the survival of British regional foods," he said. Northern Foods has applied to the UK High Court to hear the case before the end of October, when the European Commission is due to list the product in its official GI publication journal. Once itis published, Northern Foods and other UK companies will lose the right to contest the application. Under the GI system, governments must first gain consensus from all producers of a product before submitting an application to the European Commission. The application can then be contested byother countries but not by local companies. The Commission then makes a decision based on the various submissions. The UK's government actively supports the GI system. In 2003 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) hired market consultancy Food from Britain to develop a programmesupporting British regional foods and drinks. The three-year programme began in 2003 and is being funded by an additional £3m of government money. Cornish Clotted Cream, Blue Stilton Cheese, Whitstable Oysters, Scotch Beef and Gloucestershire Cider are among the local UK foods that have already gained GI status. An application forLincolnshire sausages is underway. External links to companies or organisations mentioned in this story: Northern Foods Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association Food From Britain EU Protected Food Name Scheme

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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