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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

UK Court: Greek Yogurt Needs to be From Greece

The BBC reports:

Chobani, a US-based yoghurt manufacturer, cannot label its UK products Greek as they're made in the US, according to a UK court ruling. 
A three-person panel upheld a lower court's ruling that the "Greek yogurt" label misled customers. 
Chobani's yoghurt is strained a number of times to give it a thicker texture, which the firm has said is typical of a style found in Greece. has additional coverage of the case, including several quotes from the ruling itself.

I have not heard of any similar lawsuits in the United States, although Alison Keeley's post at American University's Intellectual property brief clued me in on this firm's attempt to possibly put together some sort of lawsuit based on the "Greek" label. There has been at least one lawsuit against Chobani after Keeley's post, but that suit seemed more focused on Chobani's claim to use all-natural ingredients and whether Chobani's labeling adequately reflected the yogurt's ingredients.

Would this type of lawsuit succeed in the United States? My understanding, at least based on what I know about the Lanham Act, is that plaintiffs would need to prove that using the term "Greek" in labeling yogurt would tend to mislead customers into thinking that the yogurt is actually from Greek, rather than simply being "Greek-style" yogurt. (See 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(A), and for a good primer on the Lanham Act, see here).

Whether the "Greek" label misleads customers into thinking the yogurt is actually from Greece would be a question of fact that plaintiffs would need to prove. Personally, I always take "Greek yogurt" to mean the Greek-style of strained yogurt rather than yogurt that is actually from Greece. But maybe plaintiffs could show that many consumers do indeed think that the yogurt is from Greece.

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