Nestlé sues Sara Lee over coffee pods

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 17th June 2010

coffee-capsules-cropped.jpgNestlé has announced plans to sue Sara Lee over alleged patent infringements of the Nespresso design by the new L’OR Espresso product.

The Nespresso individual-pod coffee system, where a single pod of coffee makes an individual cup of espresso in a touch-button appliance, requires consumers to purchase both the machine, and a supply of the proprietary pods to continue using it.

“We welcome fair competition, we even thrive under it. But we will always take appropriate steps to defend our intellectual property rights when these have been infringed,” Nestlé told just-food.

“This action therefore aims to protect the integrity of taste and experience enjoyed by Nespresso lovers, which is the result of continuous innovation over 25 years. We leverage our science to innovate and keep ahead of competition. So when our innovation is infringed, it follows that we defend our rights.”

Sales of the Nespresso brand reached over A$284 billion – growth of over 22% – in March this year – around 5.5 billion pods.

Sara Lee defended the L’OR product, which has allegedly been sold at a 10% discount over the Nespresso product in France.

“We do not see any reason why Nespresso is initiating legal action against our products as they met all legal requirements,” said Sara Lee spokesman Ernesto Duran.

“Sara Lee is confident its product complies with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements,” said another spokesperson.

According to independent food sector analyst James Amoroso, this isn’t the first time a coffee maker has tried to follow in Nespresso’s footsteps.

“The background is that the other coffee manufacturers have all tried to launch their own machines and have failed to match the delivery of quality of Nespresso. Sara Lee and others are now trying to piggy-back the system that Nestlé has taken decades to establish with the associated high investment costs,” he told just-food.

“Morally, I would regard it as unfair that other commercial organisations should benefit at this stage from Nestlé’s efforts. The market is still growing in strong double-digits, so you cannot even argue that it is a monopolistic mature market deserving of a cheaper version.”

Amoroso said the suit was likely to act as a test case for other manufacturers wishing to create their own lucrative products.

“Nestlé will not want the floodgates to open,” he said.