Cape Town - Dairy giant Clover SA, has won a two-year court feud, billed as “the battle for the word butter” against Siqalo Foods, manufacturers of household brand Stork.
The two firms butted heads in the Pretoria High Court over whether Siqalo’s “Stork butter spread” was misrepresenting modified butter as a butter product.
Clover SA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Clover Group, manufactures and sells what is described as a modified butter product under its registered trademark Butro, which has been in use since July 1985.
Siqalo Foods, was incorporated and launched in 2018, when Remgro completed its purchase of Unilever South Africa margarine ‘spreads’ business.
Its product line includes the Stork range consisting of, among others, the product at the centre of the case.
Clover’s complaint was that Siqalo has been promoting and selling its spread as a butter product, when it was in fact a modified butter product.
Its argument was that the Agricultural Product Standards Act forbids the use of any mark that conveys or creates, or is likely to convey or create, a false or misleading impression as to the nature, class or identity of a product.
Clover won the case in the high court, prompting Siqalo Foods to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) which dismissed the appeal with costs.
SCA Judge VIsvanathan Ponnan had to consider among other things whether Siqalo’s product labelling created a misleading impression.
In his ruling Judge Ponnan said: “It follows that the conclusion that the label is likely to convey or create a false or misleading impression as to the nature or class of the appellant’s product is inescapable.
“The peculiar get-up of the label will self-evidently, or at least be likely to, deceive or confuse the notional consumer into believing that the product is a butter product.”
In a statement yesterday (Thursday) a spokesperson for Siqalo Foods said they had noted the judgement and would abide by the ruling.
“All measures required to comply with the judgement are being implemented and accordingly, Siqalo Foods will stop the sale and distribution of the pack label within seven days of the judgement.”
He said the product currently on retailer shelves is not affected by the judgement and the availability of the product to customers at retailers would not be disrupted.
“There are no changes to the product itself, only the packaging will change. Siqalo Foods has always acted in good faith without the intent to mislead and in the best interests of the consumer.”
He said that in the development of the product, consumer research had demonstrated respondents understood the product as a modified butter spread.
“The SCA judgement allows Siqalo Foods to move forward with legal certainty.”
Clover SA Legal executive Steven Velthuysen said they were pleased that the SCA agreed with their initial approach to interdict the sale of the Siqalo product.
“We believed it was misleading to the consumers and the judgment is an affirmation that food manufacturers are required to compete lawfully and in compliance with food legislation”.
He said they would continue to monitor developments in the matter and keep their stakeholders informed of any updates.