No Cheers with the “The Champagne of Beers”


Belgian authorities destroy American beer for failure to comply with Protected Designation of Champagne: A look at Parallel Market Imports and Food Standards and Labeling

Last week, Belgian authorities destroyed more than 2,000 cans of Miller High Life at the request of the Comité Champagne, a trade organization that oversees use of the name Champagne, after the goods had first arrived to Belgium in February.

Authorities stated that the product, labeled as “The Champagne of Beers” was destroyed on grounds that the product infringed on the protected designation of “Champagne”. European regulations provide that any goods that infringe upon a protected designation of origin of a member state are counterfeit goods. Champagne (the name and the sparkling wine) has been protected by European law since the 1980s, requiring that the wine can only be used, and termed, in compliance with a regulated production process. For Champagne, this means that “Champagne” must be produced in the Champagne region in France.

Molson Coors. Beverage Co., stated that it does not import Miller High Life to the European Union, and respects local restrictions. It was unclear who was importing the beer into Germany, and whether this was a parallel market or gray market trade issue. Parallel imports or gray market goods are genuine goods that are imported into a market unauthorized, or without the trademark owner’s consent. This oftentimes occurs where goods are manufactured in the U.S. and exported unauthorized into a foreign market, or produced in a foreign country for a specific destined market. Authorized distributors may sell products downstream to unauthorized distributors, causing the potential introduction of goods in a market for which the product was not intended. This can affect the reputation and brand of the brand-owner, but via trademark recordation and other U.S. Customs and FDA regulatory processes, there are ways to help preserve trademark rights and avoid regulatory compliance issues. While the consignee of the Miller High Life beers has not been disclosed, it is possible that the goods may have been gray market goods.

Separately, designations of origin, also known as Geographical Index (GI), are used to protect the names of specific products, to promote their unique attributes linked to their geographical origin, guarantee compliance with a defined geographical area and stringent specifications that relate to traditional know-how, and to guard against imitation. Products can be granted a GI if they have a specific connection to the place they were made. The GI recognition allows consumers to trust and distinguish quality products, and also helps manufacturers market their products better. For example, kalamata olive oil protected designation is completely produces in the region of Kalamata in Greece, using olive varieties from this region, and gorgonzola cheese protected designation refers to products originating in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions in Italy.

Last month, Mondelez International, the company that makes Toblerone chocolate, agreed that it would remove the well-known image of a Swiss mountain from its logo in compliance with Swiss law, after moving some chocolate production outside the country to Slovakia.

In the U.S., FDA regulations known as Standards of Identity (SOI) standardize foods across brands. These standards establish the product name for labeling purposes, and describe the physical and chemical properties of a product including optional ingredients. Standards may also stipulate the manufacturing process when that process has a bearing on the standard of identity of the finished food.

While EU’s GI approach has faced some criticism as imposing a trade barrier, product standards that maintain nutritional integrity and quality to meet consumer expectations remain very important. We will continue to monitor how the FDA SOI, GI’s and other naming conventions continue to evolve.

For more information or questions on U.S. food standards, labeling and Geographical Index, please email us at

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