What awaits our producers which use European geographical indications in the names of their products, and why their own local brands are worth promoting?
Everyone knows about cognac, champagne, parmesan or feta, but not everyone is aware that the aforementioned names are geographical indications, and therefore, these products can be made only within a clearly defined territory and in accordance with the applicable requirements. It means that soon, Ukrainian producers will have to stop using these and many other foreign geographical indications which Ukraine agreed to protect in its territory by signing the Association Agreement with the EU. There are over 3.5 thousand geographical indications already registered in Europe to date, while in Ukraine, the system of its own geographical indications is only emerging and today, we have only one Ukrainian-made food product with a geographical indication registered in accordance with EU regulations: Hutsul sheep milk bryndza. However, the time for promotion is running short, Ivan Haivanovych, national marketing and communication expert of the EU’s Project of Supporting Development of a System of Geographical Indications in Ukraine, said during a meeting with commercial producers of the Vinnytsia Oblast. By 2026, Ukrainian businesses will have to stop using the popular brands which are characteristic of certain regions and find the replacements. The law on geographical indications which entered into force on 1 January 2020 is intended to accelerate this process.
“The law amending certain legislative acts of Ukraine to improve legal protection of geographical indications represents a revised version of the former Law on the Protection of the Rights to Indications of the Origin of Goods harmonized with the European Union’s legislation. It is a framework document, which is expected to be followed by the adoption of three sectoral laws regulating the use and protection of geographical indications for agricultural and food products, and also, for wines and alcoholic beverages,” the expert said, adding that as of today, there is a lot of products whose names cannot be used by unregistered producers.
Thus, according to the Association Agreement with the EU, Ukraine will have to stop using the protected geographical indication “cognac” by 2026, and therefore, a search for another name for this Ukrainian product is presently underway. Ukrainian producers of feta cheese will also have to drop this name starting from 2023, because it also a protected geographical indication.
“Unfortunately, Ukrainian commercial producers are not in a hurry to change the name of their products. As a result, they lose time and broad opportunities to infinitely “reserve” for themselves the name of the products which traditionally have been produced in that particular region,” Ivan Haivanovych admits. “The very term “geographical indication” means the name identifying a product based on certain geographic location (not geographic name). It has special quality, reputation or other characteristics. These products receive special marks, which serve as an instrument of protection and marketing. In particular, it indicates that a product originates from a certain region and that it is of good quality, authentic, unique and traditional. Therefore, it immediately gains added value and brings profit to its owner.”
Gaining added value, moving to the premium class and occupying its niche
According to information by the Ministry for Development of the Economy, Trade and Agriculture, the first ten Ukrainian products with protected name were designated for registration of geographical indication in 2019. These products include cheese with the protected origin name “Hutsul sheep milk bryndza”; watermelon with the protected origin name “Kherson watermelon”; cherry with the protected origin name “Melitopol cherry”; honey with the protected geographical indication “Carpathian honey”; wines with the protected origin name “Shabskyi”, “Yalpuh”, “Zakarpattia”, “Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi”.
The first food product which received a geographical indication registration certificate and which is now eligible for registration in the EU was Hutsul sheep milk bryndza. It has been known in the Hutsul region since the 14th century, and represents a unique product handmade from the milk of sheep of a local aboriginal breed found only in the highlands of the Ukrainian Carpathians. Another food product for which an application for registration of geographical indication was filed is Hutsul cow milk bryndza, but the procedure itself is quite lengthy, and therefore, producers should start thinking about their future today.
Ivan Haivanovych: Perhaps the only detail common for a trademark and a geographical indication is the fact that both are objects of intellectual property. While the document for a trademark is issued for ten years, a geographical indication is registered forever. Thanks to unique local products, the touristic attractiveness of regions is growing. This is yet another “perk” for development of rural areas and green tourism, because geographical indicators may provide protection to the majority of food products, such as meat, fish, dairy products, honey, vegetables and fruits, alcoholic beverages, beverages made from plant extracts, wine and beer, and also, bread, pasta, cakes, chocolate and candies. Every commercial producer will discover broad opportunities for the efficient promotion of their products both in the domestic and in the international markets.
“Just for you to have an idea: the application for registration of Hutsul bryndza was submitted back in late 2018 and published in the spring of 2019, and the product was registered only at the end of that year,” the expert says. “Although the advantages are obvious. Registration of geographical indications is beneficial for the producers themselves and for consumers, because it confirms the product’s quality and uniqueness, lasting production tradition and naturalness, thus increasing the competitiveness of producers,” the expert maintains. “Only producers located in the region in question, which observe the production specification and received a certificate of conformity can use geographical indication. This is an additional and voluntary instrument of protecting producer’s interests and marketing and promoting their products.
In other words, producers themselves must be interested in registering geographical indication for their products, because in that case, a product would gain added value, move to the premium class, occupy its niche and become more expensive. Its special labeling indicates that this product is authentic and of high quality. And for consumers, in addition to guaranteed quality, products with geographical indication offer a chance to “taste” a portion of gastronomic culture of a particular region, thus enhancing, in particular, touristic attractiveness of the locality in question.”
Cognac vs brandy, champagne vs sparkling wine
The examples when well-known geographical indications helped their regions attain worldwide recognition do not take long to find. These are champagne, which brought fame to the French province of Champagne, cognac from Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France, no less renowned Roquefort cheese from the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon or parmesan from the Italian province of Parma. For the time being, Ukrainian cheese producers are not looking for alternatives to the familiar names, but the owners of alcohol trademarks have already begun conducting marketing experiments. Champagne producers were the first to react, starting to subtly indicate on the labels that this product is “sparkling wine”. But finding a replacement for cognac was a harder task. The original brand name was selected by an online survey, in which Ukrainians proposed their versions for the name of Ukrainian cognac. The majority of votes went to the “Ukrainian brandy” version, but the final name will be chosen by the producers and approved by the ministry concerned.
“To work out potential names Ukrainian businesses could use, we held eight hackathons in which representatives of various sectors related to production, trade and marketing participated. This way, more than a hundred and a half names were suggested for cognac alone, 30 of which were proposed for voting. Of these names, the “Ukrainian brandy” version received the most votes (a quarter of all respondents). Other proposals included “burshtyn” (”amber”), “gaister” (“stork”), “kianok”, “dubovyk” (“oak grove”), “sontsedar” (“sun-giver”), etc. However, the producers liked neither of these versions, so they prefer to mask their beverages in order not to change their names,” the expert says. “Apparently, Ukrainian commercial producers fear that the change of the product’s name from “cognac” to “brandy” would bring the sales turnover down, because consumers are used to perceive products under the latter name as something simpler and of lower quality. But in fact, that’s not true. A good example in this regard is champagne aged in Artemivsk salt mine, which is presently marketed as sparkling wine. So on the eve of this New Year, shoppers were looking for “Artemivsk sparkling wine”, not “Artemivsk champagne”, on store shelves.
A “perk” for development of rural areas and green tourism
Ivan Haivanovych emphasizes that one should not confuse “trademark” with “geographical indication”. The former is a product identification instrument tied to the commercial producer and representing an object of fantasy. The latter is also a product identification instrument, but it is tied to a certain geographic region. In other words, a geographical indication points out the product’s certain unique properties which depend on a certain region, tradition, know-how and that region’s natural features. For example, the name “Hutsul sheep milk bryndza” can be used by all producers operating in the designated territory, strictly observing production technology and having a quality certificate.
“Perhaps the only detail common for a trademark and a geographical indication is the fact that both are objects of intellectual property. While the document for a trademark is issued for ten years, a geographical indication is registered forever,” Ivan Haivanovych sums up. “Thanks to unique local products, the touristic attractiveness of regions is growing. This is yet another “perk” for development of rural areas and green tourism, because geographical indicators may provide protection to the majority of food products, such as meat, fish, dairy products, honey, vegetables and fruits, alcoholic beverages, beverages made from plant extracts, wine and beer, and also, bread, pasta, cakes, chocolate and candies. Every commercial producer will discover broad opportunities for the efficient promotion of their products both in the domestic and in the international markets.”
It would have been good if not just the producers of renowned brands but also the state and the bodies of local self-government joined the process of protecting geographical indications during the transitional period. In that case, producers could bring their products up to the premium segment, regions would attain greater touristic and investment attractiveness, and the product’s geographical indication would enable to create added value for the region and add to it an own “tasty” shade.
By Olesia Shutkevych