Over the course of the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of UK and EU trade mark applications. There has been a particular increase in the number of trade marks filed in the food and drink sectors, possibly due to recent changes in consumer behaviour and an increase in start-ups in this area.
Consumers are demanding more transparency from food and drink companies, requiring detailed information on the supply chain and production process as well as provenance. Consumers want ethically sourced and environmental friendly products. The demand for transparency and provenance has led many companies to turn to trade mark protection as a means of showing brand authenticity. These factors, as well as the drivers below, have increased innovation:
- An increases in the sale of organic food and drink products (a 6% increase in 2017);
- Demand for low sugar and low calorie alternatives;
- Demand for recipes and fresh pre-portioned ingredients delivered daily/weekly, and often on a subscription type basis;
- Increased market for herbal tea and coffee substitutes;
- Product personalisation;
- Demand for healthy ready-meals;
- Increased investment in digital technologies;
- Increased foodstuffs for dogs.
An overview of the number of UK and EU trade marks filed and registered over the last 5 years is below.
To provide the reader with a clear indication of the food and/or drink products concerned, the figures are separated by their relevant trade mark class heading.
Class 29: Meat, fish, poultry and game; Meat extracts; Preserved, frozen, dried and cooked fruits and vegetables; Jellies, jams, compotes; Eggs; Milk and milk products; Oils and fats for food.
Class 30: Coffee, tea, cocoa and artificial coffee; Rice; Tapioca and sago; Flour and preparations made from cereals; Bread, pastries and confectionery; Edible ices; Sugar, honey, treacle; Yeast, baking-powder; Salt; Mustard; Vinegar, sauces [condiments]; Spices; Ice [frozen water].
Class 31: Raw and unprocessed agricultural, aquacultural, horticultural and forestry products; Raw and unprocessed grains and seeds; Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs; Natural plants and flowers; Bulbs, seedlings and seeds for planting; Live animals; Foodstuffs and beverages for animals; Malt.
The biggest increase would appear to be in the number of EU trade marks filed in class 31. This is due to the increase in consumer trends for organic, un-processed, fruits and vegetables as well as an increase in the number of start-ups specialising in vegetarian, vegan and gluten free markets.
However, filings figures for meats, coffee, sweets and confectionery are still higher overall, suggesting the market for these products is still greater. UK and European consumers clearly have a sweet tooth, despite government initiatives to reduce sugar intake.
The figures also show that between the years 2013 and 2016, there was an increase in the number of trade mark filings and registrations across the board. It is worth mentioning that many more 2017 registrations are anticipated. This is because priority applications from overseas filings are very much being filed. That will add a couple more hundred entries per year.
Interestingly, in many years there are more registered trade marks than those filed. This is due to trade mark disputes often lasting much longer than a year, often delaying registration for much longer. For many readers this will come as no surprise!
The influx of trade mark applications in this sector is, of course, positive news for the UK and European food and drinks market. Having looked into the owners of these trade marks, there are a large number of non-UK applicants suggesting that these territories are still attractive to foreign inventors and investors, even post-Brexit. The large volume of applicants from the US, China and Germany is also particularly interesting.
The UK Intellectual Property Office has also recently published figures which show an 8% increase in trade mark registrations and a 50% increase in design registrations between 2015 and 2016. The increase in food and drink trade marks over the course of 2015 and 2016 far exceeds an 8% growth rate, which is certainly positive for the sector.