DOs, ETGs and Naming Conventions

INTRODUCTION

This topic will probably be of little interest to the vast majority of our customers. If you're just interested in getting a quality product at the best possible price then go ahead and place your order. If you are particular about the precise naming conventions surrounding a subset of products protected by naming conventions, then read on.

BACKGROUND

You will probably already be familiar with the concept of certain products being protected by some sort of naming convention. These are organisations, institutions and laws that stipulate, for example, that not all sparkling wine can be called 'Champagne', or that to be called 'Parmesan', a hard, sheeps cheese must conform to certain norms. The most frequent and important of these norms is to do with the geographic origin of the product. When a product is tied by history and tradition to a particular area, let's say 'Jamon de Guijuelo', for example, producers needs to protect themselves from impostors from outside selling their product as if it comes from that area.

In the EU and Spain, there are various naming conventions in operation: 'Denominacion de Origen Protegida' or DOP, or just DO; 'Indicacion Geografica Protegida', or IGP and 'Especialidad Tradicional Garantizada', or ETG. We won't go into the exact details of each, suffice to say that they exist to protect certain products recognised by a particular name and are controlled by regulatory bodies.

The justification behind these organisations, in the most part, is protection of manufacturers and customers. The regulatory councils behind the naming conventions demand certain minimum requirements from producers and in return offer a stamp of authority, the seal of approval of the DO or ETG. In most cases this is a physical sticker on the product with some sort of serial number.

Manufacturers, of genuine products are thus protected from sellers of inferior but similar products claiming that their product can be called 'Manchego Cheese' or 'Rioja Wine', for example. Consumers, for their part, are guaranteed a genuine, quality product if they look for something with the official name, like 'Idiazabal Cheese' and bearing the sticker of approval.

Of course, the sticker of approval does not come free to the manufacturer.

THE PROBLEM

We've been working in this industry long enough to know the truth behind the naming conventions and talking to factories and suppliers on a regular basis we see the real goings on behind closed doors. The truth is that they often don't help consumers at all. The public are led to believe that they are a good thing because they stop producers from palming off inferior products under a recognised name, and I'm sure in some cases it does serve that purpose. However, what we see time and again, with almost every producer that we work with, is a duplication of products: they almost always offer us the choice of two identical products, one without the sticker and one with the sticker for a significantly higher price to cover the cost of DO or ETG approval.

I can think of many examples, but two in particular are our 'Idiazabal' cheese and our Iberico ham. In both cases, we can pay significantly more for the stamped product and call it 'Idiazabal' or 'Jamon de Guijelo' or we can pay less (and therefore offer a cheaper price to you, the customer) but are not allowed to call it by the name everyone knows it by. To me that's completely counterproductive and the suppliers think its ridiculous too - the only people that benefit (financially) from it are the organisations behind the quality marks and DOs.

We're not stupid and neither are you. Neither of us wants to be paying significantly more for an identical product. And when I say identical, I mean identical, not just similar. It's literally a case of putting a sticker on the product and selling it for 1 Euro more.

In general, our stance has always been to take the product without the stamp and offer it for a lower price - that's why we can't call certain hams 'Serrano', or the cheese 'Idiazabal', even though that's exactly what they are. We realise this is a controversial decision, and you might not agree with it, but it is one taken after considerable deliberation and with our customers' best interests at heart. We are definitely not, as some customers might like to think, trying to rip anybody off.

All of which leaves us with the considerable problem of what to call these products in our web descriptions. Strictly we should not call them by their 'protected' but recognised name, like 'Idiazabal', 'Serrano' or 'Jamon de Guijelo'. But leaving that out means customers might not be able to identify a product they are looking for. So, our policy is the following:

  • When a supplier offers us the choice of paying less for an identical product but without the DO or ETG stamp, we will choose to sell that product and pass the saving on to the customer.
  • We will refer to the product by its unprotected name in the main description as the law states, but put the protected name in brackets afterwards to aid identification.
  • We will very briefly explain this in the main product description and link to this article for the full description.

CONCLUSION

Although we think our decision is the right one, you may not agree with it and you are of course entitled to your own opinion - that's fine. But please accept that we most definitely are not trying to rip anyone off or supply inferior products. We are not that kind of company and I doubt that that kind of company would take the considerable time and effort needed to write this article.

Jonathan Pincas, Managing Director, The Tapas Lunch Company

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