In August 1997 trading standards officers from the London Borough of Hackney swooped on Pelin Supermarket in London E2
Who: Cedar Trading and Hackney Trading Standards
When: Reported September 2000
Where: Divisional Court, Royal Courts of Justice, London
In August 1997 trading standards officers from the London Borough of Hackney swooped on Pelin Supermarket in London E2. They seized cans of Coca Cola and Sprite which proprietor Hasan Komur had bought from Cedar Trading.
The problem was the labelling. The consignment having been manufactured in Holland, it was in Dutch, apart from the Coca Cola and Sprite branding of course. What was the problem? There were three, all under the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 ("FLRs"). Regulation 8 requires that the "name used for a food shall be sufficiently precise to inform a purchaser of the true nature of the food and to enable the food to be distinguished from products with which it could be confused." Regulation 12 requires that "The list of ingredients must be headed or preceded by an appropriate heading which consists of or includes the word "ingredients." Regulation 38 (1) requires that "the particulars with which a food is required to be marked or labelled..shall be easy to understand, clearly legible.."
Cedar Trading was charged with breaking these rules and prosecuted. It had lawfully imported the cans, however, and defended on the basis of another FLR Regulation driven by the EU Single Market. This stipulated that none of the FLRs apply to a food lawfully made in another EU state which is labelled "with a name that is sufficiently precise to inform a purchaser of its true nature and enable it to be distinguished from food with which it could be confused."
Thames Magistrates felt that the Coca Cola and Sprite brands were "names" for these purposes and also sufficiently precise, so they acquitted Cedar. Hackney Borough appealed and the Appeal Judges took a different view. They referred to FLR Regulation 10 which provided "A trade mark, brand name or fancy name shall not be substituted for the name of a food." So "Coca Cola" could not classify as a "name" of a product. This meant that regardless of whether the world’s best known brand was capable of informing the buyer of the product’s "true nature", it could not allow Cedar to legally sell Dutch Coke cans in the UK. The only thing that could have saved it would have been the phrase we always use when ordering in the local, and appears on UK and US made cans: "soft drink with vegetable extracts."
Why this matters:
This judgement makes it a legal requirement to provide labels in English on all foods sold in this country, including the name of the product and the list of ingredients, regardless of the message the brand name conveys. Three cheers for the single market!