Chobani banned from using ‘Greek yoghurt’ label in UK

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 3rd April 2013

US yoghurt producer Chobani will no longer be able to label its yoghurts as ‘Greek yoghurt’ in the UK, after it lost a court case over whether the label was ‘misleading’.

Following a seven-day trial, which was initiated by a complaint by Greek rival dairy company Fage, High Court judge, Justice Briggs, granted a permanent injunction stopping Chobani from using the label ‘Greek yoghurt’ on its yoghurt products in the UK.

Fage, which produces Total Greek yoghurt and has a 95 per cent share of the Greek yoghurt market in the UK, claimed that British consumers who bought “thick and creamy” yoghurt generally believed Greek yoghurt came from Greece and that it mattered to consumers that it was made in Greece.

Chobani claimed in response that the description ‘Greek yoghurt’ denoted “no clearly identified distinctive class” in the minds of UK yoghurt consumers, saying that the term referred to the method of production.

The traditional method of making yoghurt in Greece was to set it in open-topped containers so that it formed a thick skin on the surface. Straining of yoghurt derived from cows’ milk through cloth bags to achieve a thick and creamy texture has been a common method of yoghurt production in Greece for many years. In Greece, yoghurt produced by that method is commonly sold with the description ‘strained yoghurt’.

Justice Briggs noted in his ruling that yoghurt sold in the UK with the label ‘Greek yoghurt’ had, with a few minor discrepancies, come exclusively from Greek milk since 1983. This convention, he said, had led to an expectation from UK consumers that yoghurt sold with this label was made in Greece.

“I have concluded that, in fact, a substantial proportion of those who buy Greek yoghurt in the UK (probably well in excess of 50 per cent of all Greek yoghurt buyers) think that it is made in Greece, and that the proportion of those Greek yoghurt buyers to whom it matters is substantial, even though it is a modest proportion of yoghurt eaters as a whole,” said Justice Briggs.

“Fage has succeeded in demonstrating that substantial goodwill has become attached to the use of the phrase Greek yoghurt, in the sense that it creates pulling power, rather than merely denotes a geographical origin to which buyers are indifferent,” he said.

Chobani had started selling and promoting its Greek yogurt in the UK in September last year, until an interim injunction was implemented following Fage’s complaint in November.

Chobani, which was founded by Turkish business man Hamdi Ulukayain the US in 2005, has been riding the wave of Greek-style yoghurt’s rising popularity. Australian Food News reported in August 2011 that the Company had increased its market share in the US from just 5 per cent in March 2008 to 48 per cent in March 2011. It launched its Greek-style yoghurt products in Australia in November 2011.