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Pie factory moves in bid to keep Melton Mowbray name

By Ahmed ElAmin , 24-Jul-2007

Pending EU recognition of the Melton Mowbray pie as a protected food has led to a relocation of a major UK manufacturing plant to the designated region.

Pork Pie Farms has decided to close its pork pie factory in Trowbridge, Wiltshire and transfer production to Nottingham.

 

 

 

Trowbridge made 115 million pork pies last year, of which 70 per cent, or 80 million, were sold as Melton Mowbray pies. The site was purchased from Northern Foods.

 

 

 

The battle over where Melton Mowbray pies can be made grew into a court case between manufacturers and the UK government over an application to protect the name under the EU's geographical indications (GI) system.

 

 

 

Northern Foods took the government to court in a fight that evolved into a groundbreaking case over the GI system and the problems it can pose for manufacturers.

 

 

 

If the European Commission grants GI status to the pie, as is likely, it would be the first recipe-based product to receive such protection in the UK.

 

 

 

Under the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) form of the status and requires that a particular product must be produced, processed or prepared within a specific geographical area.

 

 

 

Pie makers in the Melton Mowbray area applied for the designation as they wante to protect the recipe and create an exclusive 1,800 square-mile zone in which the pork pie can be made. The area extends beyond the borough of Melton to encompass the cities of Leicester, Nottingham and Northampton.

 

 

 

After approval from the UK government, the application was sent in 2003 to the Commission for a decision on PGI status. However the application was challenged in the UK and European courts by Northern Foods, the then owner of Pork Farms.

 

 

 

In November 2006, Northern Foods dropped its legal action after agreeing to a deal that would allow the company five years to switch production of its Melton Mowbray pork pies into the PGI region.

 

 

 

Now Pork Farms has said it has carried out a strategic review and decided to relocate production into the PGI region.

 

 

 

"This identified the requirement for a single manufacturing investment that would be a centre of excellence for cold pie manufacture," the company said in a statement released this month.

 

 

 

The new site is located in the PGI designated area. The company will invest £11m in the plant, which will take nine months to build.

 

 

 

The Trowbridge site will transfer products to the Queens Drive, Nottingham site from January to March 2008, not closing before April 2008, the company stated.

 

 

 

In addition to designating the area, the PGI application specifies that genuine Melton Mowbray pork pies must be grey in colour and made from uncured pork.

 

 

 

The recipe also calls for producers to bake their pies free standing, giving it a unique shape. Pie producers outside the area use cured pork and a metal hoop to give their pies a standardised look.

 

 

 

Samworth Brothers, the association's dominant member and the market leader, manufactures Melton Mowbray pork pies in Leicester, which is within the zone.

 

 

 

In its appeal Northern Foods argued that the proposed zone was artificially large, created to protect Samworth Brothers, the Melton Mowbray Pie Association's dominant member and the market leader.

 

 

 

On 21 December 2005, the High Court ruled in favour of the Defra's application and indicated it could continue its approval process through the European Commission.

 

 

 

Northern Foods indicated it would appeal. On 24 January the Court of Appeal decided to turn down the company's first application for permission to appeal the December ruling.

 

 

 

On 14 March 2006, the Court of Appeal ruled that case would be referred to the European Court of Justice.

 

 

 

Melton Mowbray Pork Pies are made by both large scale food manufacturers and small artisan producers up and down the country. The market is worth an estimated £51.7m per year and is the fastest growing section of the pork pie market, says Northern Foods.

 

 

 

Samworth Brothers has a 62 per cent market share, followed by Northern Foods, which had a 24 per cent market share at the time.

 

 

 

Samworth Brothers manufactures over 99 per cent of the pies produced by association members. The Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association lodged an application with Defra in 1999.

 

 

 

In 1993 EU legislation came into force which provides for a system for the protection of food names on a geographical or traditional recipe basis. The system is similar to the familiar"appellation controllée" system used for wine.

 

 

 

The scheme highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed. Under this system a named food or drink registered at a European level will be given legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.

 

 

 

About 40 UK products have been registered with the EU including Stilton Cheese, Cornish Clotted Cream and West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.

 

 

 

The EU wants international recognition for the GI system and has applied to World Trade Organisation to get it ratified. That application is being contested by the US, which claims the system is nothing but another form of trade protection.

 

 

 

Northern Foods is also facing a similar battle against the Cornish Pasty Association, which has applied for PGI status. Defra, which has a policy of promoting traditional foods, has to approve the application before it is sent on to the European Commission for consideration.

 

 

 

The association is a group of about 40 of the county's pasty manufacturers and bakers. ACNielsen values the UK's retail savoury pastries market at around £307m with a growth of six per cent year-on-year.

 

 

 

The EU's GI regime is meant to protect local food producers across the bloc from having their traditional brand names used by processors elsewhere. The system has shut out producers who were using what they thought was a generic name for their products.

 

 

 

Since its introduction in 1992 about 700 foods and drinks have been approved for GI protection, with another 300 applications under consideration.

 

 

 

About 40 per cent of the bloc's citizens say they are willing to pay a 10 per cent premium for specially designated products, according to a Commission survey.