The European Union vigorously protects its geographic indicators (“GI”) for its food and beverage products. Most of us are familiar with the GI’s for regional wines such as Champagne, Burgundy and Chianti. In the U.S., we have certification and collective trademarks that serve the same function to [protect the known reputation and quality of products grown in certain regions. Well known examples include FLORIDA® Oranges, WISCONSIN® Cheese, VIDALIA® Onions, IDAHO® Potatoes, and PARMIGIANO- REGGIANO Cheese.
Europeans have the same pride in their regional cheeses as they do in their wines. There is activism to protect traditional regional cheese varieties such as parmesan, asiago, gouda, feta, camembert, and others. This is a serious concern for U.S. cheese makers because these cheese varieties are generic terms in the U.S. In the U.S., those names are types of cheese, not indicators of where they originate. A successful campaign in the EU could affect the U.S. through its international treaty obligations.
Parmesan cheese (Parma, Italy) and Gouda (Gouda, The Netherlands) may be forbidden product names in the near future. If successful in establishing GI’s to protect these cheese varieties, U.S. Cheese makers would have to label their artisan cheeses as “Gouda-style” “Feta-style” or “Imitation parmesan.”
There are already U.S. collective marks for ROQUEFORT cheese (USSN 571798) and PROSCIUTTO DE PARMA (USSN 2014627, 2014628, and 2014629) and CHIANTI CLASSICO (USSN 0889138)
This is a big issue where the cheese industry will need significant lobbying to protect its interests. However, there are things individual cheese makers can do to mitigate the impact of any potential charges in cheese naming and label regulations: actively market and register your brand name (house mark). Make your brand this prominent in the mind of consumer so they will associate good will and product quality with your brand rather than the cheese style. Start this campaign now so you are well positioned in the marketplace if the proposed regulatory changes become law. Have your customers associate your name such as (First Light Creamery or Helluva Good) with good quality no matter what the cheese variety or product you produce. A side benefit of this strategy is that you will build brand equity (read “More Money”) for your proprietary brand- something you can sell for substantial prices in the future.
Let me give you an example. I want to market a new cartoon character. Is it worth more as a product of Disney® or Tracy Jong Enterprises? I want to market a new energy drink. Is it worth more as a Coca-Cola® or Tracy Jong Enterprises? I think you get the point. Brand equity-consumers recognition and good will is a valuable asset.