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30/04/2021 – Challenge of our Times / Retail / Consumers / Product Imitation

'DO's and Don'ts – Denominations of Origin (DO) imitations

Denominations of Origin from Mexico and Europe – representing manufacturers of tequila, wine, brandy, cognac, spirits, ham and nougat – have joined forces to speak out on the need for a solid regulatory framework that will protect consumers against imitations of their products.

Denominations of Origin (DO) from Spain, France and Italy, together with tequila in Mexico, have published a declaration in defence of all DO products and those with Geographical Indication (GI), in a bid to guarantee consumers an authentic product and protect them from any irregularities that may exist in the market. 

On 15 March, World Consumer Rights Day, the Consejo Regulador del Tequila in Mexico, Brandy de Jerez, Vinos de Jerez, Espirituosos España, and Turrón de Jijona in Spain, Prosciutto di Parma in Italy, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac in France, and Turron of Alicante joined forces to speak out on the need for a solid regulatory framework to protect consumers against imitations of their products.

The European model of protection

Today, there are more than 9,000 Denominations of Origin in the world and more than 3,500 in the European Union, with a market turnover of EUR74.5 billion.

Following the example of the European model of protection, Mexico has made great efforts in establishing Denominations of Origin, with 18 now in place, the first of which is Tequila. Currently, more than 70,000 families and 20,000 agave producers depend on the tequila agro-industry. Such livelihoods are increasingly at risk, however, from a flurry of cheap substitutes.

Threatening history and tradition 

The success of DO products has led to the emergence of unauthorised use and evocations of the protected names in other world markets that threaten the efforts of products with years of history and tradition. And Above all, such imitations work against the most important element in the production chains: the consumer.

There have been myriad reports of fraud with regard to the production criteria for food products labelled in accordance with one of the schemes certifying geographical indications and traditional specialities. For example, an investigation in 2018 by TV channel ABC discovered counterfeit Tequilas entering the US market and being served as house spirits in bars, as well as being sold in independent liquor stores across America’s biggest markets. One rogue operator was even found to be creating spirits by mixing raw ethanol with flavourings. 

The rise of e-commerce in recent years has merely served to exacerbate the problem of DO imitations and has further emboldened criminals to take a punt on ripping off these valuable products of provenance.

Weeding out the frauds

On the detection side, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) has demonstrated considerable ability to weed out frauds in the F&B world. The technology has already proved effective at characterising the complex composition of Scotch Whisky, differentiating red wines from various Bordeaux sub-regions, distinguishing tomatoes based on their geographic origin, and discriminating between artisanal beers. The technology does not come cheap, however – NMR spectrometers can cost anything from US$200,000 up to US$5 million, while running the machines is also expensive. Given the enormous market value of DO products and the rising prevalence of imitations, the Associations representing such producers may well deem it a price worth paying. 


Tackling “irregularities” in the marketplace

In response to this rising threat, regulatory bodies and boards have come together to set out the basic principles and measures needed to strengthen the protection of their products, as well as to provide consumers with clear and straightforward information to enable them to identify an authentic product.

The declaration, signed by the associations, states, "The signatory bodies join together to promote DO/GI products around the world on a day as important as 15 March, World Consumer Rights Day. We believe it is more important than ever to ensure a strong regulatory framework, so that together we can tackle the irregularities taking place in the marketplace.”

To accompany the declaration, the associations have also made a video to help people understand that buying products that identify each region “also means getting closer to the work, tradition, quality, history and perfection” of each area. “Therefore, protecting them also means valuing everything that lies behind them.”

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