Protecting the Big Cheese
Stefano Berni of Grana Padano explains what’s involved in preventing a world-renowned brand from being fraudulently copied.
Grana Padano cheese is a Product of Designated Origin (PDO) and, as such, can only be produced within the area indicated in the production specification rules and following the precise methods that these describe. As the best-selling PDO cheese in the world, it enjoys worldwide popularity, and its production specifications give precise and reliable indications that define its characteristics.
Such specifications, together with a number of checks and controls carried out by organisations including the Cheese Protection Consortium, ensure that cases of real counterfeiting are infrequent – in EU countries at least.
In fact, in the past few years in Italy there has been only one case of a company producing Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese without authorisation, or without adhering to the specifications. This is because the control system in Italy works well – an EU Commission Food and Veterinary Office audit carried out in June 2014 noted that the system boasts characteristics that go beyond the requirements required by EU legislation.
Of course, outside the EU the situation is different: controls are more difficult to impose, the possibilities for intervention are limited and expensive, and knowledge of the characteristics of the original product is more approximate. These are all elements that increase the likelihood of irregularities and thus the chances of a counterfeit Grana Padano PDO cheese.
However, in general, these violations relate less to counterfeit products and more to the undue evocation or wrongful use of the Grana Padano PDO name for similar cheeses that in fact have nothing to do with the real Grana Padano PDO.
There has recently been a case where a similar hard cheese, called Rani Padano – produced by a large dairy company in the Antalya area of Tukey – illegally used images depicting the real Grana Padano on its website. This was found to have increased the risk of confusion for consumers.
The Consortium initiated a legal proceeding, after which the Court of Istanbul issued an injunction against the Turkish company and then arranged for inspections at the production site, the warehouse and the registered office of the company. During these inspections it was noted that the names Padano and Padana had been replaced with names that do not violate Grana Padano PDO’s legal rights.
Another case of illegal use of the Grana Padano designation concerns a cheese called Queso’s Chugur type Grana Padano, produced in Peru by the dairy company Planta Quesera Chugur Quesos Srl.
The Consortium in Italy turned to the Peruvian Trademark Office to have the violations committed by Chugur Quesos assessed. The Trademark Office acknowledged the validity of the Consortium’s complaints, arranged for legal inspection of the company’s commercial premises and ordered the Peruvian dairy to immediately cease all use of the name Grana Padana, under penalty of administrative fines for any delay in complying with the order.
Following the inspection, the counterpart submitted a conciliation request to the Trademark Office, admitting the wrongful use of the expression ‘Grana Padano-type’ but suggesting that the Consortium abandon any legal action, as the dairy company would settle the issue. The Peruvian dairy subsequently removed all its products marked with the designation ‘Grana Padano’ from its stores in Peru.
The Consortium, however, considered this solution unacceptable, as it did not allow for any damages. It therefore brought a compensation action before the Peruvian Courts.
Similar cases have occurred in Brazil and the Consortium has long been active in fighting them. These are more difficult to win, however, given that local legislation considers the term ‘Queso tipo Grana Padano’ to be legitimate.
Negative impacts for the brand
The economic damage done to the Grana Padano PDO cheese makers as a result of illegitimate use of its name is difficult to quantify, especially given that the Consortium does not deal with the product’s marketing. However, the fact that damage is done is certain. Equally certain – if difficult to accurately quantify – is the damage done in terms of reputation and credibility to the brand. If consumers have been induced to buy a similar cheese that has a similar name to Grana Padano but is mediocre compared to the real thing, they will inevitably attribute this mediocrity to the original product and will hardly be willing to buy it in the future.
The Grana Padano cheese protection Consortium is committed to counteracting, as far as possible, the counterfeiting, evocation and improper use of the designation ‘Grana Padano PDO’ and the logos that distinguish it, to protect the product, its producers and its consumers worldwide.
To this end, the Consortium has a special internal legal department that collaborates with external law firms and with the firm in charge of the filing and trademarking of registrations worldwide. It also works with the surveillance department, which operates in coordination with the Italian quality, protection and repression fraud inspectorate and coordinates the verification activity on the marketing of Grana Padano PDO in Italy and abroad.
About the author
Stefano Berni is General Director of the Grana Padano Cheese Protection Consortium.