If You Pop, You Better StopOctober 18, 2019

In the latest battle of branding, the Italian government has confiscated approximately 250 tubes of the “Prosecco & Pink Peppercorn” flavored Pringles from several grocery stores in the Veneto region. The Prosecco flavored Pringles were seized on the grounds that the use of the term “Prosecco” was allegedly not approved by the wine’s consortium of Italy. The name Prosecco has been protected by the Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC) since 2009 and can be used only upon authorization by the region’s consortium of Prosecco producers.

Luca Zaia, the Veneto president shared a photo of the Pringles can on social media, commenting, “we can no longer tolerate that a protected name be used without authorization . . . this is why we have been insisting for years that we need to protect our [excellent products] from fraud, abuse and anything ‘Italian-sound,’ as it primarily damages honest producers who promote quality and the territory.”

The Prosecco and pink peppercorn Pringles were launched last fall as part of a limited edition “Dinner Party” and “Xmas Dinner” line of flavors. Other flavors in the line include “Cocktail Sauce” and “Pigs in a Blanket” (or “Sausage and Crispy Bacon,” depending on the region). The accused Prosecco and pink peppercorn can features Pringles positioned in a wine glass, surrounded by red peppercorns.  

Since the seizure of the Prosecco Pringles, Pringles stated: “We used Prosecco DOC as an ingredient in the aroma and the use of the product name on the packaging was designed in line with DOC guidelines and European regulations. We have no plans to produce this variant in future.”

The fights over brand protection for Champagne, the more expensive French cousin of Prosecco, are well documented. As the popularity of Prosecco has grown in the U.S. and elsewhere, so too have the number of producers trying to cash in on the drink’s newfound popularity. Those outside of the Veneto region in Italy trying to market Prosecco have faced increasingly aggressive opposition: the labeling battle has been waged in Australia, Japan, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, China, and other European countries, and in the UK the trademark for “Pawsecco,” a drink for pets, was rejected as too evocative of “Prosecco.”

The issue of brand protection becomes complex when a region of origin is involved. Geographical indications (GI) serve the same functions as trademarks, because like traditional trademarks they are source-identifiers, guarantees of quality, and represent valuable business interests.

The United States allows for protection of geographic indications upon a substantial showing of distinctiveness. In other words, a generic geographic term cannot be protected because generic indicators are so broad consumers typically view it as designating a category of all of the goods/services of the same type or region, rather than a particular company. The threshold for showing distinctiveness for a geographic indication is high in the US, and many countries do not protect geographic indications at all. Proponents for protecting “Prosecco” argue the brand has achieved such distinctiveness (much like “Champagne”) while critics argue such protection provides Italian manufacturers with an unfair competitive edge.

Brand protection, for any business, is important in modern business, particularly when a company operates internationally. A strong brand enhances company value, communicates company culture, and carves out a spot in the market. Allowing competitors to use or unfairly imitate your brand can lead to customer confusion and brand dilution. It is therefore important to seek brand protection in the form of trademarks, copyrights, and other legal remedies, early in the development of a business.

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