This Chocolate Week, not all chocolate makers were celebrating. Former Sussex Food & Drink Awards winner, Cocoa Loco, has been threatened with European legal action if it doesn’t stop using the term ‘champagne truffle decadence’ for one of her products, even though they include genuine French champagne as a key ingredient.

The French champagne authority, The Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, wrote to her out of the blue demanding that she take the term champagne out of the product name.

“It is particularly galling because I have specially bought a lot of good champagne to use in this product for Christmas,” said Sarah Payne, owner of Cocoa Loco.

“Far bigger chocolate businesses than mine are using the term Champagne Truffle – Thorntons, Teuscher of Switzerland, Hotel Chocolat and many other well-known chocolate firms – so why am I being singled out? Are they trying to do a test case with a small company like mine, or are the big firms under attack too?”

The Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne is a French semi-governmental organisation which was legally founded in 1941 and positions itself as in charge of the protection of the appellation of origin Champagne. In their first letter, they said:

“…the association of the name Champagne with chocolate may take unfair commercial advantage of the reputation of this well known appellation and may damage the reputation of its name. Even if your truffles did in truth contain Champagne, that would not in our contention justify use of the appellation Champagne as part of the main product name…
You are consequently requested to cease using the name Champagne to designate Champagne Truffle Decadence for any food products.”

In response to Sarah’s letter explaining that they do use genuine Champagne in the product, a legal adviser to the Comite replied:

“…I would like to highlight that, as a protected geographical indication, the name Champagne may be used by any operator marketing a wine which has been produced in conformity with the product specification. European Council Regulation No. 491/2009 does moreover provide that geographical indication shall be protected against ‘any direct or indirect commercial use of a protected name in so far as such use exploits the reputation of a designation of origin or a geographical indication’.

“We thus believe that the association of the name Champagne with chocolate truffles takes unfair commercial advantage of that name’s reputation and the few Champagne the truffles are made of can’t justify the use of the name Champagne as part of the main product name.
We hope we have convinced you that the protection of the name Champagne is of serious concern to the CIVC and for all of this we shall reiterate our demand.”

Said Sarah Payne: “I am at a loss as to what to do – I can’t afford to start defending a legal challenge in the European Courts, but I also can’t waste good ingredients which I have already stocked up on, so what do I do? It’s Chocolate Week this week and I expect high sales of our delicious champagne truffles!”