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The Shetland blog: Brand issues give Shetland producers food for thought

Chris Kerr, a Partner at Harper Macleod, looks at the importance of protecting your provenance and brand for all food and drink producers.

Last year, Harper Macleod became Supporters of Taste of Shetland, a great new initiative and website created by Shetland Food & Drink – the membership organisation for the islands' leading producers.

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The food and drink industry is big business these days, not just for Shetland but for Scotland as a whole. The most recent figures show that it contributed a massive £14.4 billion of turnover to the Scottish economy in 2016 with exports reaching a record £5.5 billion.

However, in the global market Scottish food and drink has to emphasise its quality and provenance as its unique selling point.

Protected status

Certain products can do so through EU designations of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) or Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). A PGI product must be produced, processed or prepared in the geographical area with which it is associated. To obtain PDO status, all three production stages must take place in the area and the product must also have distinct characteristics.

Shetland producers benefit from PDO status given to "Shetland Lamb" which must be produced from lambs no more than 12 months old at the time of slaughter and reared, processed and prepared on Shetland; and to "Native Shetland Wool" which must be produced on Shetland using traditional methods with the wool coming from pure bred Shetland sheep who have been grazed organically on Shetland.

And producers can also have the benefit of protection given to Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and Scottish farmed salmon, not forgetting whisky.

Given their nature, island-produced products feature strongly in the list of other British products with protected status – Orkney Scottish island cheddar; Stornoway black pudding; Jersey royal potatoes and Isle of Man queenies.

Trade marks & brand issues

Such protection can be of great value to all producers and works well for smaller businesses who want to promote the provenance of their product. But for business growth, even for a small producer, protection of the individual product brand is also essential. For any business, whether a food producer or not, its trading name or brand is one of its most important assets.

If someone registers a trade mark they have a monopoly right throughout the UK to use that name for the goods or services for which it is registered. So if someone else starts using the name steps can be taken to stop them. But what if the other business registers first?

Protection is given generally to the first person to apply to register a trade mark, not to use it. And so a local business operating in good faith can suddenly find it has to stop using its name and rebrand its business, incurring cost and impacting the goodwill it has built up.

So, at the start of a New Year, a good resolution for businesses is to pay more attention to protecting their brand.

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This article originally appeared in the Shetland Times