The trade body representing European food and drink manufacturers has said it “regrets” the outcome of a vote in the European parliament, which will limit food and beverage companies’ ability to offer two different versions of the same product in different member states.
A majority of MEPs in the European Parliament’s International Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) committee lent their support to including the ‘dual quality’ of products in Annex I of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005.
The legislation received the backing of Jean-Claude Juncker and emerged from the publication of a report from the Czech Agriculture Ministry, which found that products including fish fingers, instant soup and coffee often varied from one EU country to another.
‘Less consumer choice, higher consumer prices’
But FoodDrinkEurope, the body that represents European manufacturers, has claimed that the response from the EU may miss the mark.
In a statement, the organisation said: “FoodDrinkEurope is strongly against any deliberate ‘dual quality’ of food and firmly condemns any such practices. Adhering to the highest food safety and quality standards in the world, European food and drink companies offer the highest quality of their brands consistently across Europe, while customising their products to the local environment including local preferences (even within the same member states), raw material availability, national regulatory requirements, different national nutrition/health/sustainability strategies, and more.
“Although the text adopted by the IMCO Committee today recognises that there can be legitimate reasons for product differentiation, not all of these reasons are covered. Also, under the proposed text, minor differences in the composition of products of the same brand (such as those caused by different manufacturing equipment or logistical reasons) would fall under the scope, which would have a large impact on production.
“Most worryingly, inclusion of the concept in Annex I – which bans product differentiation ‘under all circumstances’ – does not allow for a case-by-case assessment and may have far-reaching consequences as it is expected, de facto or de jure, to lead to the requirement for brands to have the exact same recipes all over Europe. This would in turn limit product innovation and consumer choice, increase consumer prices in certain markets (some of which may no longer be served as a consequence) and negatively affect local agricultural supply in these markets.
“Moreover, it can lead to problems of unfair competition between multinational operators vis-à-vis local competitors.”
FoodDrinkEurope said that legislators should “better analyse and consider the impacts of the various policy options” open to them.
“We stand by the efforts of our members to cater to the different culinary tastes and traditions of Europe which make our continent so unique,” FoodDrinkEurope said.
But, buoyed by President Juncker’s state-of-the-union remarks last July, European parliamentarians have been consistent in their opposition to so-called ‘dual quality’.
Speaking last year, Olga Sehnalová – an MEP from the Czech Republic, which first publicised the practice of dual food quality – said: “Dual quality products undermine citizens’ confidence in the fair functioning of the EU internal market. If a product is sold under the same brand and packaging, it should have the same composition. If the manufacturer wants to customise a product, consumers have the right to know and be aware of this adjustment for each individual product.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019