Nestlé loses fight with Impossible over meatless burger branding

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Nestlé SA must stop branding its plant-based burger "Incredible" after a European court ruled the language infringed on Impossible Foods Inc.'s trademarks and could confuse consumers.

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The order by the District Court of The Hague in the Netherlands means Nestlé has to change the name of its Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger throughout the European Union. Nestlé said it would rebrand the product as Sensational across Europe, while also appealing the decision.

WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOODS? 

The ruling is a setback for the world's biggest packaged-foods maker, which has sought growth in the burgeoning market for plant-based products at a time when many other packaged foods have struggled as consumers reach for cheaper alternatives or higher-end fresh food.

Nestle’s Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger.

"We are disappointed by this provisional ruling as it is our belief that anyone should be able to use descriptive terms such as 'incredible' that explain the qualities of a product," a Nestlé spokesman said.

Nestlé's Incredible Burger, made from soy and wheat protein, launched in April last year and is sold in 15 countries in the region. Outside Europe, the burger is sold in Australia, although Nestlé said it didn't yet know if the name would be changed there. Nestlé also sells a different plant-based burger in the U.S., branded Awesome Burger and made from pea protein.

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Impossible, founded in 2011, doesn't currently sell in Europe but said it is in the process of getting approval to do so. The U.S. company sought an injunction against Nestlé's product, claiming the Swiss giant was trying to impede its entry into the European market by using a similar name.

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The legal spat underscores the race for dominance in the fast-growing but increasingly crowded meat-free market, where established packaged foods companies are jockeying with startups. Plant-based meat sales in U.S. retail stores totaled a little over $1 billion for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 25, according to research firm Nielsen, up 14% from the prior year. Sales of traditional meat grew 0.8% to $96 billion over that period.

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Impossible, which launched its burger in 2016, recently slashed prices on its products to be more competitive as companies such as Smithfield Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. plot their own plant-based offerings.

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