Tag Archives: branding

Ethiopia’s GI Bill

Ethiopia is in the process of ratifying a Geographical Indication Bill to protect indigenous products.  According to Addis Fortune

“Among these location-branded products are Tigray and Masha white honey, Harar senga (bulls fattened to be butchered), Dendi garlic, Limu coffee, Assosa mangos, Ankober sunflowers, and Debre Brehan brandy.” 

 (Thanks to Shlomo Bachrach (http://www.eastafricaforum.net/) for the link) 

The article describes an ongoing project intended to identify products which might benefit from GI protected branding.  This looks like a good idea and might result in increased incomes for producers.  But the value of IP protection – whether a trademark or a GI – will eventually be determined by the ability of the owner to enforce the grant of rights. 

Corporate trademark owners such as Volkswagen, Levi Strauss and Starbucks invest in protecting their global brands by employing investigators to ferret out black market products and other infringements of their IP.  One of the best examples of a GI that is backed up by heavyweight enforcement is owned by Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma (association of Parma Ham® producers, CPP).  In a well-known 2003 case, CPP successfully sued ASDA: 

“UK supermarket Asda has lost a battle to sell authentic Parma ham under the Parma brand, when the meat is sliced and pre-packed in Britain.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3043283.stm 

CPP has protected production methodology, origin, packaging AND how the ham is sliced! 

The CPP is a powerful producer group because its members sell large quantities of Parma Ham, generating sufficient revenues to protect the GI.  If indeed Ethiopian producers procure GIs for products such as Ankober sunflowers, will sales volume generate sufficient revenues to adequately police usage of the name?  Even well known global brands such as Kiwi (shoe polish) are not policed in Africa; although Kiwi polish is widely available, it is all counterfeit.  Presumably Sara Lee Corporation (which acquired a number of UK brands from Reckitt and Coleman) cannot justify the cost of enforcement in Africa. 

 The Ethiopian coffee trademarking program was well conceived and generated a high level of attention from the international press.  But there is still little evidence that this initiative resulted in any income gains for producers.  A number of NGOs provide IP training in developing countries, and it might be advisable for them to position IP as one tool of many in the market development toolbox.  Without sustainable marketing plans and enforcement programs, these IP-centric initiatives are unlikely to be successful. 

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Starbucks & ‘Charbucks’; protecting a brand

The coffee retailer Starbucks has always vigorously protected its brand name.  While this is a wise business decision, they sometimes go too far.  In this case, a small roaster in New Hampshire (Wolfe’s Borough Coffee) created a blend they called “Charbucks”, referencing the darkness of the blend.  Starbucks went after the small company and lost.

Now, according to Bloomberg, the case “was revived after a federal appeals court vacated part of a ruling favoring the smaller company”.  You can read the story at: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=a5LBaVSt8NkQ&pos=7.  Also visit the FindLaw site for case summary and links to the full decision.

Starbucks has taken legal action against dozens of alleged infringers of their IP.  Perhaps the most ridiculous was an attempt in 2006 to claim ownership of the term “double shot”.  Matthew Williams (“I live coffee”) commented on http://www.coffeegeek.com that:

“I don’t think Starbucks (or any other company) should be allowed to trademark the name of a particular product that is based on a common usage idiom (units of measure in this case). Imagine a company making hotdogs trademarking “footlong” or a snack maker trademarking “cupcake.””

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Oxfam and “The other green revolution”

Oxfam, the UK-based mega NGO, reports on its success in the Sahel where soil management, erosion control and tree planting have transformed the agricultural environment.

“African farmers have reclaimed farmland lost to drought in the Sahel, bringing hope for the future of this arid region and a model for fighting hunger worldwide”

On October 29th Oxfam hosted several panel discussions in Washington DC to enable the innovators to explain the history of the project and to engage with donors and other NGOs in a discussion about how to replicate this kind of success.

FRAME covered the event on Twitter and comments can be found at:

FRAME observed that:

“After the devastating droughts of the 1970’s and 1980’s, African farmers in the Sahel region mobilized to reclaim their land from the encroaching desert. Thirty years later, their work has secured 13 million acres of farmland, fed 3 million people, recharged village wells, and supplied useful and valuable tree products. Despite growing populations and the threats of climate change, food security has improved in the Sahel region.”

As more land is lost to drought, this work may have far-reaching implications for food security in sub Saharan Africa.
Oxfam is far more visible in the UK than it is in North America.  They have played a signicant role in making England a big market for Fair Trade products.  Even chains like Tesco and Waitrose carry FT products in at least five categories, and Sainsburys has a partnership with Twin Trading about (the co-founder of Divine Chocolate) to develop FT products.

OxfamAmerica played a major role in building consumer support for Ethiopia’s coffee trademark initiative (click here for our blog posts on this subject); if you search http://www.oxfamamerica.org for “Ethiopian coffee” you’ll find a dozen links that describe the history of their involvement.

Oxfam understands branding better, probably, than any other NGO.  Check out their range of activities – which includes global warming, emergency aid and poverty in the UK – at:

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

The branding of commodities; adding value through differentiation

Sebastian Derwisch sent me a link to a very intelligent and provocative paper by Sumit Gupta on Branding Commodities.

The paper can be downloaded at this brandchannel.com page and then look for the paper by title*, “Branding of Commodities by Sumit Gupta”.

*(the link directly to the pdf breaks but via their web page I can view in Google docs and download it?  Not sure why that is… — Kay)

Small holder farmers around the world are engaged in producing commodities such as tea, coffee and cocoa.  The challenge for Northern marketers is to differentiate their products from those of the competition, and we have seen a wide range of strategies designed to add value.  The market for chocolate is particularly interesting because the premium sectors in both the US and Europe are gaining share from the low end products.  Thus Cadbury in the UK purchased Fair Trade brand Green and Black, and in the USA Hershey purchased premium brand Scharffenberger.

Gupta probes the challenges involved in branding commodities, and discusses product differentiation strategies in depth.

In his conclusion, he observes that:

“Branding of commodities offers additional value both to the consumers and the producers. Branding leads to commodity differentiation and hence enables consumer preference. This translates into greater choice and quality for the consumers. To the producers branding provides the opportunity to increase gross margins by increasing the value perception of their product.”

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Fair Tracing; new branding and tech transfer possibilities?

Fair Tracing Project Blog
This was a project I heard about whilst listening to a podcast this morning.  It’s called “Fair Tracing” — a research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK.  And, as the play on words suggests, the idea is linked to the Fair Trade model of trade.

 The aim of the project is to:

“help bridge the digital divide between Northern consumers and Southern producers by using tracing technology to enhance the Fair Trade model of trade”

It’s not hard to imagine a number of possible benefits if applied to an agricultural development context.  This kind of branding could be used to provide assurances on the quality of seed for example.  Or as a channel for technology transfer by providing latest updates about inputs, storage, pests etc.  Market prices could even be added, as the data can be amended at any time.  And this is an aside to its intended use to support Fair Trade which is a quickly growing consumer category.

How does the system work?  Using digital tracing technology that, according to the blog enables an individual product to be:

“given a unique identity and tracked throughout the value chain from producer to consumer. The information that may be attached to such a “tagged” product is virtually limitless, beginning with details of the product’s date and cost of creation, as well as its individual creator and his/her working environment and pay, through the various steps of its transport to the eventual point-of-sale to the consumer. At each stage of the product’s journey, information may be added and/or edited and, if the information is stored digitally on the internet, may be of various multimedia types. The ability to access this rich information at the point-of-sale will empower the consumer to make an informed comparison between competing products before finalising his/her purchase.”

So far precise details have not been determined, and case studies are to be conducted to determine what form the data, storage and retrieval could take. Their blog includes publications related to the project.

Supporting, developing and saving local agriculture. CherryAid.


I often listen to BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme.  Support of local produce is a common theme in the programme, but the CherryAid campaign goes several steps further.   It is an integration of value add, support of biodiversity, and the education of the consumer in support a specific crop.  It is part of a larger campaign, Food Lovers Britain, which aims to encourage consumers to shop locally for local produce, whilst supporting local business. 

The website describes that the CherryAid project was born because:

“In the last 50 years we’ve lost 90% of our Cherry orchards and now import around 95% of the Cherries we eat.”

Helping consumers become more aware of the underlying issues can ultimately help producers differentiate their product and build a brand encompassing a wide range of add-on value so they are not competing on price alone.  This is a great example of market development and brand building in agriculture.

Rice varieties. Nericas® & case for using intellectual property management for stewardship


This recent article in the WIPO magazine  talks about Nerica®, – a subject CAS-IP has been following closely with the Africa Rice Centre (WARDA).  

“Helping agricultural research centers manage their intellectual assets as public goods is the raison d’être of the Central Advisory Service on IP (CAS-IP), a unit of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to which WARDA belongs. WARDA and CAS-IP are holding ongoing workshops to determine how IP mechanisms could best support the impact of this agricultural success story. Nerica was registered as a trademark with the USPTO in 2004, and as the expanding range of Nerica products are adopted by ever more smallholder farmers, CAS-IP notes that it will be increasingly important to protect the quality associations that have been so carefully established by WARDA, and to ensure that any Nerica seeds acquired by a farmer are the real thing.”

I have quoted this paragraph in its entirety as it was so well put! 

There has been some criticism around the use of “formal” intellectual property mechanisms such as trademarks in the field development as it has been viewed as “restrictive”, and counters the spirit of a “public good”. 

From our perspective this couldn’t be further from the truth!  We see a crystal clear case for IP mechanisms of this kind facilitating effective stewardship of research outputs.  A research breakthrough is the first step — after that, as the output makes it way downstream into the farmers hands and fields, this product MUST perform to expectations or the well intended mission of international research falls short.  Intellectual property management is one tool to help encapsulate the knowledge and experience of the original research into the product as it enters the supply chain.  Stewardship of breeding, storing, complementary inputs and techniques can be built into a brand and a brand can be moulded using formal IP such as trademarks.  To repeat the WIPO article, the aim is:  “to ensure that any Nerica seeds acquired by a farmer are the real thing.”

Cacao, enhanced value chains, benefits for farmers & intellectual property


This CNN World Report looks at the cacao market in West Africa and Trinidad.  An informative piece with a positive look into the future for these small holder farmers. 

Photo by Victoria Henson-Apollonio

Photo by Victoria Henson-Apollonio

These examples further the discussion of the growing trend of consumers wishing to know more about from where and how the food they purchase has made its way to the supermarket shelves.  See also the recent NYTimes.com article about the “find the farmer” scheme that is running in parts of the US.   This could have huge IP implications in terms of branding and certification.

CAS-IP has been involved in a project run by Bioversity International and funded by the World Bank that uses modern genomics methods to enhance the cocoa value chain by identifying  “rare and potentially valuable high-quality [cacao] beans.. cacao growers could charge more for special beans, and chocolate lovers could enjoy better experiences.”

See the Bioversity International  press release for more info.

“The core of the project is to develop standardized, reliable methods to identify the valuable beans… Jan Engels, the project leader, is a senior scientist at Bioversity International with long experience of cacao diversity. “I am very pleased with the Bank’s decision,” he said. “This will encourage farmers to conserve cacao diversity for the best possible reason: because it earns them more money.”

A win, win then?

The “Catfish Wars” – G.I and branding issues


This New York Times article tells the story of the “Catfish Wars”, which in itself is a fascinating tale – raising many issues about aquaculture in a development context.  Specifically however, the issues about branding, labelling, origin and the effects this can have on markets was the reason for blogging this article. Halfway through the feature there is reference to the fact that in 1991 American catfish farmers pushed for amendments to the agriculture appropriations bill to prohibit Vietnamese catfish being called catfish in the US to differentiate their product.  More recently new catfish crosses are  to be launched under a new “brand” to disassociate from the troubled name.

Rebecca Tushnet on her blog sums up the issues comprehensively:

The NYT … feature [touches on] issues of false advertising (what is a catfish?), GIs (including the use of “Cajun” on fish not raised in the US, as well as country-of-origin labeling), and branding (including US growers’ decision to switch to the name Delacata in an attempt to leave the catfish wars behind).

Read the full article for the complete picture!