Dairies fight over Jarlsberg cheese

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An upstart dairy in Norway that for years has battled against the country’s dominant dairy market regulator, Tine, isn’t giving up its effort to bust what it calls Tine’s remaining “monopoly” on one of the country’s most successful export products, Jarlsberg cheese. A local court upheld Tine’s claim that it has exclusive rights to the Jarlsberg brand, but its small rival Synnøve Finden is filing an appeal.

Synnøve Finden's new "jarlsberg-type" cheese, before the court ruling on Friday. PHOTO: Synnøve Finden

Synnøve Finden’s new “jarlsberg-type” cheese, before the court ruling on Friday. PHOTO: Synnøve Finden

In a humourous press release Friday afternoon, in which it literally blacked out all references to the word “jarlsberg” (which it spells without a capital letter), Synnøve Finden reversed initial reports that it might have to destroy all of its new “Kongsgård-” brand cheese because its packaging described it as “a type of jarlsberg cheese.” Its new cheese is meant to compete head-on against Tine’s Jarlsberg cheese, but Synnøve Finden feared it wouldn’t be able to because of the court’s backing for what it also calls Tine’s “rewriting of history.”

Synnøve Finden, one of the first small dairies to start competing against Tine when Norway’s dairy cooperative giant was forced to give up its monopoly in the mid-1990s, claims that Norway’s “jarlsberg-type” of cheese dates back to as early as 1815. “Tine’s story that it created the cheese in 1956 is therefore not correct,” claims Martin Tollefsen, director of cheese at Synnøve Finden. “The myth that Tine founded the cheese is spun by Tine itself, and repeated in its marketing.”

Synnøve Finden's new ost without the "jarlsberg" description, after the court ruling was handed down. PHOTO: Synnøve Finden

Synnøve Finden’s new ost without the “jarlsberg” description, after the court ruling was handed down. PHOTO: Synnøve Finden

Vowing to appeal the decision from the local court i Follo, south of Oslo, Synnøve Finden is moving forward with getting its new “blanked-out-type-” of cheese to market this weekend, by simply covering up the reference to “jarlsbergost-type” on its plastic packaging.

“This is a quality cheese that deserves to land on its customers’ breakfast tables, and not in the garbage,” Tollefsen states in the unusual press release (external link, in Norwegian).

“For us in Synnøve Finden, it’s important to avoid food being thrown out,” the release stated. “Therefore we have now gathered all our good forces in the company to carry out a joint effort to erase ‘the name that the court forbids us to use.'” The latter seemed to be a reference to the evil lord in the Harry Potter series of books, that was referred to as “he who can’t be named.”

Tine's "Jarlsberg" cheese, which has been a big success in the export market. PHOTO: Tine

Tine’s “Jarlsberg” cheese, which has been a big success in the export market. PHOTO: Tine

Tine officials, meanwhile, were pleased that the local court forbid Synnøve Finden to use the “jarlsberg-type” brand in the marketing and sale of its new cheese. “This is important for protection of registered trademarks and sends a signal that other players can’t exploit the goodwill that lies in established brands,” state Tine’s communications director Lars Galtung in Tine’s own press release.

Galtung claimed Tine, which was famously responsible for Norway’s butter shortage a few years ago when its state-sanctioned market regulation to control dairy product prices backfired, “had no wish to stop the launch of the new cheese Synnøve Finden has developed, but to change the communication around the product.” He noted that the court did not forbid Synnøve Finden from actually taking the cheese to market either.

Nor is Synnøve Finden taking the cheese off the market. The altered packaging with the words “jarlsbergost-type” covered over will need to continue pending its appeal. “This will probably make Kongsgård the world’s first cheese equipped with stickers,” Tollefsen said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund