How Arla side-stepped the EU feta ruling

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Feta, Denmark, European union, Europe

EU laws to protect regional foods do not necessarily spell the end
for copycat products, as Arla Foods has shown with its Danish
'feta' cheese brand.

Only milk from sheep and goats in Greece can be used to make feta cheese, under an EU ruling passed in 2005 and to be introduced fully later this year. Rows over feta's protected designation of origin (PDO) status have raged for several years, with producers outside of Greece, including one in Yorkshire in England, arguing they should be able to use the name too. Even France, which has collected more PDOs than any other member state, complained about the ruling. Not everything has gone Greece's way, however. One of the largest copycat feta products, Apetina made by Arla Foods, has continued to lure consumers over the last couple of years. Apetina 'feta' is made from cow's milk in a factory close to the Danish-German border, and Arla last week began work to almost double its production capacity there to 26,000 tonnes. "We have been prepared for this for quite some time,"​ Arla's Astrid Nielsen told DairyReporter.com. The group previously ruled out a production facility in Greece due to bad experiences there in the past. Arla's strategy has been relatively simple, essentially hedging its bets on the outcome of the dispute by promoting its feta as a brand - Apetina - and building consumer loyalty through this. Time can be on the side of the generic brand owner in PDO applications, providing it spots the issue early enough. PDOs generally take around two years to be approved after the initial application, and Feta took more than 20 from when the idea was first proposed. "We've done quite a lot of work to disassociate ourselves from the term feta,"​ said Nielsen. "We've tried to get Apetina translated by the consumer so they are thinking 'this is feta'."​ Arla launched Apetina feta in the UK last summer and said initial results had been positive. It adds to the brand's strong position across northwest Europe, where it is the number one 'feta' product in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Eastern Europe, too, has emerged promisingly over the last year. "Arla Foods' European feta brand has now achieved such success in Poland that it is to be used as a door opener to other Eastern European countries,"​ the firm said in its recent annual report. It added it aimed to grab 30 per cent of the Polish feta market over the next two or three years. Nielsen said Arla would also look to expand Apetina outside of the EU. Its feta variant is already present in the Middle East under the well-known Puck brand and the Three Cows label. Clever marketing centred on using feta in cooking and salads, together with rising popularity for Mediterranean diets, have breathed new life into the cheese in recent years. Nielsen said she was expecting tougher competition from Greek producers once the EU PDO ruling comes into force fully. "I'm sure they will come.They've done quite well in Germany, but we haven't really seen much of Greek feta in northern Europe." ​ Greek producers can already use the blue and yellow PDO quality mark and their feta is now stocked by most supermarkets in the UK. There are question marks over how much of the EU market Greece can supply, however. Greece and the department of Lesbos produce around 115,000 tonnes of feta each year, with more than 85 per cent of EU feta-style cheese eaten there. Before the EU ruling, France, Germany and Denmark produced a combined 100,000 tonnes of feta.

Related topics: Arla Foods, Ingredients

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