Northern Foods has had another setback in its battle to stop production of Melton Mow-bray pork pies being restricted to a 1,800 square mile zone around the Leicestershire town.
The company has been battling for seven years against the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association’s (MMPPA) plans to gain “Protected Geographical Indication” (PGI) status for the pies. Foods which are awarded this status can only be produced in a specified area – for example, Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France.
A PGI zone would stop Northern Foods’ Palethorpes factory in Shropshire and Bowyers factory in Trowbridge from producing Melton Mowbray pies, which they have been making for over 100 years. Northern Foods had argued Melton Mowbray is a generic name for a style of product, the production of which had long moved away from Leicestershire. It said the application for a 1,800-square-mile Melton Mowbray catchment area was an artificial boundary. But on December 21, High Court judge Mr Justice Crane decreed the definition of a “geographical area” could include a zone rather than just a town.
Northern Foods has also queried the MMPPA’s claim that Melton Mowbray pies must be grey and made from uncured pork. It says the Association’s dominant member, Samworth Brothers, produces both cured and uncured pies, branded as Melton Mowbray.
Northern Foods started the High Court action last year, putting on hold deliberations on the case already under way at the European Commission. The company will decide by January 18 whether to apply to the High Court for permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal. Director of communications Hilary Baker told British Baker it believes the MMPPA is involved in a “cynical misuse of legislation”.
One of the Association’s key members is Samworth Brothers, which controls 62% of the £51.7m Melton Mowbray pork pie market. Northern Foods has a 24% share, according to TNS figures, added Ms Baker. “We think it’s anti-competitive, The biggest producer is conveniently in this zone, and is trying to stop its rival from producing,” she said.
Northern Foods could transfer production of its Melton Mowbray pork pies to its facility in the Melton Mowbray zone if the EU does award the pies PGI status, she suggested, but no decision has been taken. It would also seek five-year transitional arrangements to allow it to keep producing in its current facilities.
If Northern Foods decides not to appeal, the application to restrict production of the pork pies, made by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of the MMPPA, will continue through the EC approval process. Permission could be granted as soon as May this year.
Matthew O’Callaghan, the MMPPA’s chairman, said: “It is important for the protection of traditional, regional foods that applications such as ours should not be defeated merely by the threat of legal action from large manufacturers. We are not a protectionist cartel. If other companies want to come to the Melton Mowbray area and make pies to a traditional recipe using traditional ingredients, they are very welcome.”
The EU Protected Food Names Schemes came into force in 1993 and provides protection of food names on a geographical or traditional recipe basis.