Not-so Incredible Burgers: Impossible Foods forces Nestle to stop selling “Incredible Burgers” in Europe

June 27, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Impossible Foods has successfully brought an action against Nestle on the basis of infringement of the “Impossible Burger” trademark in Europe.

What does this mean?

The District Court in the Hague has ruled against Nestle, citing the similarity of the words “Incredible” and “Impossible” as misleading consumers in differentiating between both plant-based “meat” burgers. Nestle now has four weeks to withdraw all “Incredible” products or face a hefty fine for each of its 10 subsidiaries involved. Nestle has decided to rebrand its products as “Sensational” instead. This action comes as the US start-up Impossible Foods is looking to expand its customer base into Europe. They are currently waiting for approval regarding the genetically modified ingredients in their burgers from European food regulators. 

Nestle had previously sought a declaration of the invalidity of the “Impossible Burger” trademark. Failing that, they launched the “Incredible Burger” in Europe and the “Awesome Burger” in America.

What's the big picture effect?

With changing consumer preferences towards plant-based proteins, many companies are looking to acquire a market share in this industry. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are two of the largest players in this market for plant based “meat”. Nonetheless, it is difficult for them to compete against the financial backing, technical expertise and research capabilities, and international distributional reach of Nestle. 

Drivers of this shift in consumer taste can be attributed to multiple factors. These include increasing concerns for personal health and wellbeing, the environmental impact of a meat-based diet, and the association of coronavirus with animal products. Consequently, the global plant-based meat product market is set to hit US$3.6bn this year and increase to $4.2bn in 2021. With a growth of 17%, it is easy to see why companies are fighting to seize a share of the market for themselves. 

As food companies aspire to amass a hold in the plant-based industry, disputes between companies are cropping up as players attempt to maintain their competitive edge. In using a term analogous to the “Impossible” brand, Nestle may be hoping to snag a portion of Impossible Foods’ consumer base. Disputes such as these will involve lawyers in arbitration and dispute resolution. As in this case, this will involve areas of Intellectual Property (IP) and Competition specifically. There may be more M&A (Mergers and Acquisition) deals as companies snatch up start-ups dedicated to producing “plant-based” meat alternatives. Nestle recently acquired plant-based company Sweet Earth; such deals will create work for practice areas such as employment, corporate, IP, and projects. Solicitors also would have helped Nestle source financing for this deal and ensure compliance with competition regulators. 

While the two dominant startups in this industry are currently Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, increasing consumer preferences for “plant-based” food makes it more plausible for new players to enter the market. This is a lucrative industry attracting many start-ups who are keen to leave a strong footprint in this market. We have yet to see whether these two companies can protect their market dominance.

Report written by Robyn Ma

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