EU court says Aldi can keep its ‘Champagne sorbet’

A five-year battle over a Champagne sorbet has finally been settled, with the European Court of Justice ruling in favour of Aldi after the Comité Champagne tried to ban the supermarket from using the term ‘Champagner’ on its label.

The sorbet in question, which incidentally Aldi stopped selling long ago, despite the court battle rumbling on

The Comité Champagne had argued that the retailer’s use of the term for its ‘Champagner sorbet’, which contains 12% Champagne, infringed its protected designation of origin (PDO).

A PDO protects products produced within a designated region, and prevents products produced outside from benefitting from an association.

The Comité requested an injunction to stop its sale at the end of 2002, claiming that the retailer was benefitting unfairly from the reputation of the Champagne region. The injunction was at first granted but reversed on appeal by a higher court.

In a ruling this week, the case against Aldi brought by the Comité was dismissed by the European Court of Justice, with judges concluding that the retailer’s use of the term “Champagner” not unfair or misleading.

The court said that the quantity of the Champagne contained in the sorbet itself “is a significant but not, in itself, sufficient factor”, ruling rather that the term could be used if the product “has, as one of its essential characteristics, a taste attributable primarily to Champagne.”

“Aldi had a legitimate interest in using the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ to refer to a food product known to the public under that name and in which Champagne was an essential ingredient, and there was no misleading indication,” the ruling stated.

Lodging a counter appeal against the decision, the Comité argued that Aldi’s use of the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ doesn’t adhere to the “product specifications for wines protected by the PDO ‘Champagne’ and uses that PDO for commercial purposes”.

Again, the court dismissed the appeal, asserting that the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ is “likely to extend the reputation of the PDO ‘Champagne’ to the product distributed by Aldi”, with judges concluding that where there is a “legitimate interest in the use of the PDO, there cannot be exploitation of the reputation of the PDO”.

It brings an end to a five-year battle that began when Aldi Sud began selling the “Champagner Sorbet” in German supermarkets in 2012. The court case rumbled on despite the supermarket incidentally deciding to stop selling the sorbet after Christmas of the year.

Previously, the Comité Champagne warned tech giant Apple over the introduction of a Champagne iPhone, while last year it won its case against a UK-based flooring company that was trying to trademark a range of “caviar and Champagne” products. Last year an Essex brewer successfully defended the right to name his beer ‘Champale’ after a two-year trademark dispute with the Comité Champagne.

In one of the biggest battles, wine writer Rachel Jayne Powell won the right to keep her brand name following a court battle with the Comité. The Comité took Powell to court in 2014 accusing her of trademark infringement over the use of the word “Champagne” in her name, which it said “damages the goodwill of the Champagne sector”.

Ultimately, the presiding judge in the case, Justice Jonathan Beach, ruled that the Comité had not done enough to compel him to order Powell to cancel her business name or withdraw her trademark.

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