20. Jun 16

Competition law: Vegan cheese cannot be marketed as cheese

“Vegan” on the outside means it’s not cheese on the inside. That was the verdict of the Landgericht Trier (Regional Court of Trier) in its ruling of March 24, 2016 (7 HK O 41/15).

GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: More and more consumers are going in for vegetarian or vegan diets. However, vegan food products, which are produced without animal milk, cannot be marketed using the term “cheese” or its German equivalent “Käse”. In its judgment of March 24, 2016, the Landgericht Trier held that the term “Käse” is reserved for dairy products.

The present case concerned a business specializing in vegan and vegetarian foods that had advertised some of its vegan products as “Käse” or “cheese” on its website. The LG Trier has since prohibited the firm from doing so by way of an interim order.

The Court ruled that the marketing in question violated European law, according to which the term “Käse” is exclusively reserved for animal dairy products (Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013). It went on to say that the website marketing vegan products as “Käse” had thus infringed competition law and that this violation could not be remedied by including a clarification in the product description pointing out that no animal substances were used in production. The 7th Civil Chamber of the LG Tier also concluded that it was equally immaterial whether there was a real risk of consumers actually being misled by the use of the term “Käse” in relation to vegan products.

Competition law is meant to ensure fair and free competition through, among other things, Germany’s Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb (UWG) [Unfair Competition Act] and Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen (GWB) [Act Against Restraints of Competition]. These are not only supposed to afford consumers protection but also regulate relations and behaviour among market operators. If competition infringements occur, even unwittingly, the result can be serious sanctions such as formal written warnings, interim orders, injunction suits or damages claims. Companies looking to avoid time-consuming and costly disputes as well as enforce or see off claims can turn to lawyers who are versed in the field of competition law.

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