High Court battle over brown bread packaging

Thursday 21 July 2011 19.35
Brennans and McCambridge - Brennans accused of engaging in unfair commercial practice
Brennans and McCambridge - Brennans accused of engaging in unfair commercial practice

A leading bread company has begun a High Court action against a rival firm over what it claims is a mimicking of its packaging for brown bread.

McCambridge bread company, which is the market leader for brown soda bread, is suing Brennans amid claims that customers have been confused by their ‘lookalike’ packaging.

It claims Brennans is engaging in unfair commercial practice and is in breach of copyright.

Brennans denies that it is attempting to ‘pass off’ its product as that of McCambridge's.

A small supermarket shelf has been set up in the courtroom for the hearing to illustrate the arguments.

Opening the case, Counsel for McCambridge, Anthony Aston, said McCambridge began as a grocery shop in Ranelagh in Dublin in 1945 and closed in 1985. It then concentrated on the sale of bread and ice cream and the bread business took off.

The brown soda bread is the market leader for that type of product, he said.

Brennans was established in 1960 and is the overall leader in the bread market with a distinctive brand and trademarked slogan. It had also been selling brown soda bread for a number of years.

In 2008, McCambridge changed its packaging for brown soda bread and in January of this year Brennans replaced its packaging for one ‘with a high degree of similarity’ to McCambridge.

McCambridge says consumers are unlikely to scrutinise the packaging in great detail and instead will make a decision to buy based on general appearance.

It also claims Brennans is engaging in unfair commercial practice and causing customers to buy a product believing it to be something else. It also claims an infringement of copyright.

Brennans denies the claims and says its packaging is sufficiently different to allow customers to distinguish between the two products.

Company Chairman Michael McCambridge said he first became aware of the Brennans packaging when he saw the product on a supermarket shelf mixed in with his own.

He said the reason he did not complain until six weeks later was because his opinion was ‘subjective’.

However, after further meetings with supermarket buyers, it became apparent that even those with 30 years experience were confusing the two products, he said.

He said it was his belief that Brennans began a move in 2008 to get closer to the McCambridge product but did not succeed until it changed its packaging again earlier this year.

The court heard that Brennans was selling its brown soda bread for an average of €1.25, but it was often priced at €1 during promotions.

The McCambridge bread sells for €1.69. However Mr McCambridge said the price difference in the past had no impact on sales. McCambridge bread sells on average 162,000 loaves a week.