Belgium: We Want To Be The Champagne Of Chocolate

from the sweet dept

There have been attempts in the past to apply intellectual property protection to specific foods and drinks. Champagne sparkling wine is one of the more well-known examples of this and its application has resulted in problems in the past. Not terribly long ago, Lebanon took permission culture to the extreme and claimed they owned food copyrights (which don’t exist) on ethnic foods like falafel and hummus, going so far as to plan to sue Israel for selling those same kinds of foods. This seeking to lock up widely known terms is quite depressing, since it’s so often only about profiting by way of removing competitors. So depressing, in fact, that it makes me want to have a piece of chocolate to help me feel better.

But if it’s Belgian style chocolate I’m looking for, my options may become limited if Belgian chocolate makers get their way. Their industry federation is seeking to have the EU protect the word Belgian, their flag, and their packaging from horrible, awful, foreign competitors, using a lesser-known form of IP, geographical indication.

They want the term “Belgian chocolate” to be their exclusive preserve and also want to crack down on foreign rivals dressing up their products as “Belgian style” or of a “Belgian recipe”.

Geographical indication is something of a European thing, mostly, and one which the United States has actually pushed back on. One of the conditions a term must meet in order to be granted a GI is that it cannot be in common use already. Given that this entire story is all coming about as a result of foreign companies producing Belgian chocolate to meet high demand throughout the world seems to negate the entire endeavor on its face. Even more hilarious are the comments coming from these Belgian chocolate producers, who claim this is some matter of principal rather than profit.

“What makes us sad is that very often the copies are not up to the standard of the originals,” Jos Linkens, chief executive of Neuhaus, told Reuters in an interview. “If top chocolatiers around the world copied us, perhaps we would be happy. We don’t want the image of quality to suffer.”

Uh huh. First off, that simply isn’t a believable statement, given how much of the Belgian chocolate business growth has occurred in markets like Asia, where suddenly there are more competitors popping up to meet rising demand. This seems like a clear attempt to limit that competition. Secondly, if the quality of the so-called imposters aren’t up to snuff, then your chocolate should win out anyway. Thirdly, if this idea that one had to protect certain styles or kinds of food on the basis of their reputation, the entire nation of Italy should have fire-bombed every Pizza Hut in existence long ago. They haven’t, because the truth is that if you want good pizza, you go to the people who know what they’re doing.

And if you want Belgian chocolate, you go to whoever makes it the best.

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Comments on “Belgium: We Want To Be The Champagne Of Chocolate”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As a consumer, I am perfectly okay with a limited form of this as acceptable trademark protection (though copyright or patents would be stupid). A good example is tokaji wine, from Hungary. Hungary has a proud wine tradition, and very demanding standards on the requirements are for certain types of wine, which usually results in a higher quality product. Knockoffs from Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Ukraine, etc. often do not have that same quality, therefore allowing them to use that name would cause legitimate consumer confusion. As a result, legitimate Hungarian tokaji wine, complete with official approval and a distinctive seal, is the only wine permitted to use the Tokaji name and seal.

I agree that going after “Belgian-style” or “Belgian-recipe” is an over-extension, since those would be seen as obvious knockoffs, but protecting “Belgian chocolate” by itself would be a legitimate and acceptable application of trademark laws.

Some Guy says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, because it’s not from Tokaj. (Same way you can only call whiskey “Tennessee whiskey” if it’s actually from Tennessee.)

One exception: a quick search of Wikipedia reveals that the Tokaj wine-region extends into neighbouring Slovakia; wine produced there can be called Tokajsk? if it meets the same quality controls as the Hungarian product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The labeling laws (in any country with decent ones) should already prevent blatantly lying about the origin of a product. If it says “Made in China” and people still conclude that it’s real Belgian chocolate, then you’re asking the government to go above and beyond their responsibility to prevent customer confusion. If it’s sold in a country where labeling laws are lax or nonexistent, then there’s nothing this will accomplish anyway.

The real victims here would be other Belgian chocolate companies of lower standards who would be prevented from using their country’s name because their high-quality competitors locked it up as referring to their particular style or recipe. It’s not so bad when it’s just a small region like Champagne where none of the landowners have interest in making any other wine, but claiming a whole country’s name for a single style of product turns the industry into a cartel that can oppress manufacturers who try to compete.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Cheese should be cheese and you know that “sandwich melt” has never been near an animal and doesn’t taste right!
Doesn’t mean that “bubling white wine” cannot be every bit as good as or better than champagne.

In other words, GI is diluting the user protection of false naming, by creating a new, supposedly, higher quality standard as opposed to making minimum standards for the product.

I would be completely fine with some mark of approval showing that the product is truely from the geographical area claimed in the name, but it seems a bit excessive to exclude on those grounds and especially in terms of “x style” which in itself is a good indication that the product is not from x… Imagine if Italy claimed GI on “pizza” as opposed to “Napolitan pizza”.

“Deep pan baked bread with natural topping”, anyone?

The Old Man in The Sea says:

Re: Re: Best chocolates I have eaten are

Yes, I am.

I discovered them about 24-25 years ago. I bought up about around $100 worth and took them away on a holiday. I shared them around and the best thing was that the kids did not like them. Everyone else wanted to know where I got them.

The best I have ever tasted.

barry says:

I’m Belgian myself and I’ve been expecting this for quite some time now. Belgium had pretty strict rules on the amount of cacao you had to use to make chocolate ( you couldn’t just put any amount of fat or aroma in I but had to use a certain percentage of cacao butter ) and this made ‘Belgian’ chocolate taste better than foreign one. But a view years back, under pressure of lobbyist from the industrisl Belgian chocolate manufacturers, this rule was struck down by the European commission so they could use cheaper ingredients such as animal fats to create more chocolate with the same amount of cacao. And now, when it turns out ‘Belgian’ chocolate is starting to taste as bland as every other they seek to fence of the market. I’ll stick to locally produced artisan chocolate, made by small chocolatiers who don’t need questionable trademarks to protect them but rather create quality products.

Corwin (profile) says:

Re: Not exactly in that order

As a Belgian chocolatier, I’ve been to those industry meetings where they negotiated a label for “good quality” chocolate. In the 90s. (Like, 94-97, I can’t remember precisely.) They were worse than worthless.

See, WE asked -with ONE other chocolatier, out of ALL those who felt concerned enough to even show up- that there be NO certification label, but only that ALL the ingredients used in the product have to be listed.


That’s when we walked out of the meeting. One of our suppliers was there and got certified later, and we SAW one tub of sunflower oil in front of their tank of white chocolate, when we went to visit them. That was NEVER listed in the ingredients lists, even on the technical specifications sheet.

The “rules about what goes in the chocolate” were pre-broken. It’s not even the later lobbying that did it.

As for the decline in quality, you’re almost right. What happened was that, at some point, people got interested in chocolate without fillings. So, suppliers began to market chocolate displaying prominently their cocoa mass percentage.

Chocolate is made out of three ingredients : cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar. Sugar is cheap, powder is even cheaper, cocoa butter is expensive.

So, to achieve high percentages while keeping their margins, they began to unbalance their recipes and put way too much cocoa powder relative to the cocoa butter.

Those dark chocolates that leave a bitter paste in your mouth that doesn’t go away? That’s too much powder and not enough butter to make it go down. Long-tasting should means that the flavor is delivered in your mouth, result of a good quality from the bean through a careful processing that respects the product, not that your palate gets unpleasantly coated because of an shitty recipe committed by accountants.

Then, they tried to fix that by adding other fats to the chocolate. As if getting your mouth burned by processed animal fats were better than getting it coated with cocoa powder. Right. Because two wrongs make a right, ostensibly.

I’d say “let the idiots buy from the dishonest makers, at least MY product’s GOOD”, but then I find it harder to sell my chocolates when people are afraid of eating dark chocolates because they now think it’s supposed to taste bad.

Global Voyeur says:

Re: #barry

I follow your statement completely. But no matter what laws are in place the chocolate makers should have their pride and keep making the traditional good chocolate.

However, having a protected name doesn’t guarantee you a great product. With Champagne, all you’re guaranteed is that it’s made in the Champagne region of France after certain standards. However, you can get amazing Champagne and terrible Champagne. Even from M?et & Chandron you can get not too good Champagne. But at least you know it’s from there and they are proud of it.

I think that’s the point. If Belgian Chocolate became something only Belgians could make, I think they would sit down and think this over, as it opens a completely new set of opportunities. You may say what you want about Champagne compared to Cave or others (and personally I love Cava), but there’s no doubt that in terms of turnover and revenue the protected name and the status Champagne as the name for sparkling wine has worldwide is worth more than anything else they could do. Belgian chocolate is not as strong as Champagne, but most people worldwide associate ‘Belgian chocolate’ with high quality chocolate they are willing to pay extra money for.

So I hope Belgium can get this, I’m quite surprised why they haven’t asked for it before. It will mean a lot.

Anonymous Coward says:

To be honest I think it’s a good thing fr the most part. Anything labeled as Belgian chocolate needs to have been produced in Belgium.

This doesn’t hold for the style or recipe namings but what do you expect, it’s got to be worth it (for the chocolateers) to ask even if they’ve got no leg to stand on.

As a final point is that Americans don’t get to have opinions on chocolate – as a nation your taste in the stuff is terrible.

btrussell (profile) says:

“This seems like a clear attempt to limit that competition.”

Isn’t that what patents and copyright do?

Eat two hershey bars. One from England and one from N.A.. Do they taste the same? No, since they are using different milk.

Location plays a big part of how a recipe turns out which is why I expect they have had a hard time getting copyrights for recipes. Location includes altitude and ingredient origin.

Richard (profile) says:


Geographical indication is something of a European thing, mostly, and one which the United States has actually pushed back on.

Mostly because they don’t have any decent geographically located foodstuffs.

I can see nothing wrong is forcing a geographical description on a product to be accurate.

If Chinese chocolate is as good as Belgian then it should be able to compete without calling itself Belgian.

Having said that I do think that “Belgian Recipe” or “Belgian Syle” should be allowed. (Champagne went too far when it banned other producers from using the term “Methode Champenoise”)

Call me Al says:

Re: US

The Champagne situation is especially silly when you realise that the key invention for retaining the bubbles was English. Previously the bottles produced in France would break under the pressure, so they used to vent them. In East Anglia they developed a stronger bottle and it was that which allowed the Champagne we all know exist.

Of course I also think that English sparkling wine is nicer then most champagnes, except for the really expensive ones of course.

Dale Paus (profile) says:

This brings to mind the fight over the name of a scotch whiskey made in Cape Breton, Canada, that was called “Glen Breton”. The Scotch Whiskey Association sued over the use of the word ‘Glen’ in the name, and tried to prevent them from calling it ‘scotch’ whiskey. Ultimately, the little distillery prevailed (

An aside: the distillery began making an absolutely incredible scotch whiskey that is finished in ice wine barrels. It’s fantastic (although I’m sure purists will turn up their nose)

Some Guy says:

Re: Re:

  1. There is no such thing as “scotch whiskey”: it’s “Scotch whisky” (capital “S”, no “e”).
  2. They prevailed on the “Glen” thing, not on the “Scotch whisky” thing:

However, Glenora is not permitted to call its whisky ?Scotch?. ?Scotch whisky? is a protected geographical designation pursuant to section 11.12 [as enacted by S.C. 1994, c. 47, s. 192] of the Trade-marks Act, and may only be used in association with whiskies produced in Scotland.

(I can’t see anything in your link that suggests they ever tried to market their whisky as Scotch).

3. Unless they subsequently relocated to Scotland, they did not begin “making an absolutely incredible scotch whiskey” (or even Scotch whisky). They began making a (possibly absolutely incredible) Canadian single malt.

4. Some purists may turn up their nose; others with more sense will judge it on its merits. Japanese single malt, for example, is rather good, and does well in competitive tastings.

Anonymous Coward says:

im regular reader that usually agrees with 99% of opinions i read here but i feel it is important to point out you are wrong here . To draw a example from Lebanon is just wrong – they are not trying to protect chocolade just the belgian part it is more trademark then anything else and even u agree trademarks are important . EU came to this idea 20 years ago when opening markets as a way to help countrys of protecting their cultural heritage . Exp. There is a special ham that comes from a small island in Croatia and there are 5 firms that sell it . You can not give a monopoly to one or share it between them but once the whole EU is one market there is nothing to stop someone to call some rubbish and expect every customer to know how to recognize the original one so eu made a registry where unique products will be protected . Not the recipe or name just the right for geo location . Claiming that free market should do its thing here is the same as telling labels they can copy songs of independent artist as soon as they come out , even calling their performer the same , cos free market will solve it is just silly . So plz apologize to choko everywhere now! P. S. Once again to compare or even suggest that they are trying to tie down chokolade just shows this article was writen in a hurry . Btw there no limit in EU policy how many manufactors can be just where they have to make/bake …

PRMan (profile) says:

Pizza was invented in the US

My friend’s parents went to Italy in the early 70s and NOBODY in Italy had ever heard of pizza. Now, they claim to have invented it, but at the time it didn’t exist there.

The story I heard then was that an Italian couple in Texas was making bruschetta with sauce instead of fresh tomatoes when it wasn’t the season for tomatoes and pizza was born. But the internet has re-written history now.

Corwin (profile) says:


It’s not the first time someone tries to create a label for “Belgian chocolate”. Those have always failed.

You could buy cocoa beans from, say, Callebaut, refine them in Ivory Coast or wherever it is they’re grown, ship the half-made chocolate to the US and then finish it with the Belgian methods, it will be Belgian chocolate in all but name. Why not give it the name then?

One Belgian chocolatier only consists of an office and everything is outsourced, not especially in Belgium. They’re marketing their product as Belgian chocolate. Does it deserve the name?

You really can’t certify that. There is no Unique Secret Recipe, just some nebulous cloud of ways to make the chocolate, like everywhere else. I mean, the sort of output from our couverture factories is different from what you find at the exit of, say, American couverture factories, and that’s part of Belgianness. It’s made (mainly) from other Belgian products, by people who learned to make chocolates in Belgium. Take the same source product and methods anywhere in the world, you’re making Belgian chocolates.

“Belgian chocolate” means about as much as “French fries”.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


This is a key point: geographical designations often don’t mean (to the average american, anyway) what those in the named geographies think they mean.

They refer to a style, not an actual location. Belgian chocolate does not mean it’s from Belgium. It refers to a style of chocolate-making.

I can barely tolerate this protection of “geographical” designations, but trying to prevent companies from saying “wherever-style” is going too far.

If I’m making a product in a style like that associated with a particular region, I should be able to say so. That’s not confusing consumers, that’s informing them properly.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:


I can barely tolerate this protection of “geographical” designations, but trying to prevent companies from saying “wherever-style” is going too far.

Amen. As a beer brewer (hobbyist), nobody who drinks my Belgian-style beer thinks, “Hey, we aren’t in Belgium. How can you call it Belgian-style?” They think…”yum”. California is known for a number of “styles” of beer, including Steams, and if anyone tried to trademark steam as a California only style, I think they’d get lynched by a mob headed by the majors (unless the majors tried to do it, which I wouldn’t put them past trying to do.)

After all, one of the major’s claims to fame is their honed tradition of brewing Bavarian-style Lagers in St. Louis, MO (and quite crappy, I might add.)

bshock says:

Belgian counting on international ignorance

Okay, so Belgian chocolate in general isn’t bad. For quality and flavor, it easily beats out American crapmeisters like Hershey or Nestle.

But that doesn’t mean Belgian chocolate is the best around. A significant number of Europeans tend to consider Swiss chocolate a far superior alternative. After sampling quite a bit of both, I would agree.

Nice try, Belgians, but why are you so proud of being #2?

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