Thatchers loses High Court trademark fight with Aldi over rival cider drinks

The Somerset-based brewer claimed that Aldi’s Taurus brand “copycatted” its product.

Drinks firm Thatchers has lost a High Court trademark battle with supermarket chain Aldi over rival cider products.

The Somerset-based brewer sued the German discounter for allegedly infringing the trademark of its “cloudy lemon cider”, claiming that Aldi’s Taurus brand “copycatted” its product.

But in a ruling on Wednesday, a judge dismissed the Thatchers case.

Judge Melissa Clarke concluded there was a “low degree of similarity” between the rival products and “no likelihood of confusion” for consumers.

At a trial in London in November, Thatchers accused Aldi of gaining an “unfair advantage” by copying the product the family-run cider business released in February 2020 “in both taste and appearance”.

Lawyers representing Thatchers argued that the Taurus drink was “likely to misrepresent to consumers some commercial connection to Thatchers”.

The German retailer, which operates more than 1,000 stores in the UK, accepted it used the Thatchers product as a “benchmark” but denied infringement.

Aldi lawyers also denied it was “passing off” its product, launched in May 2022, as one appearing to be from Thatchers and rejected claims that it was “riding on the coat-tails of the reputation” of the Thatchers brand.

Judge Clarke said she was “satisfied on the balance of probabilities” that seeing the Aldi product “would call to mind” the Thatchers trademark, causing “a link in the mind of the average consumer”.

But she concluded that Aldi had not infringed and was not liable for “passing off”, adding that the German supermarket’s product did not take unfair advantage of nor was “detrimental” to the reputation of the Thatchers trademark.

Judge Clarke found that Aldi did not develop its product “with an intention to take advantage of the goodwill and reputation” of the Thatchers trademark, adding that she was satisfied “there is no misrepresentation that Aldi is connected in trade with Thatchers”.

An Aldi spokesperson said: “There’s nothing cloudy about this judgment. It’s clear cut. Aldi exclusive brands are just that: exclusive to Aldi while leading the market on quality and price.”

Martin Thatcher, a fourth-generation cider maker at the family firm, said it was “compelled” to bring the case “as we were concerned that the packaging of international retailer Aldi’s product was misleading shoppers due to the strong resemblance to Thatchers Cloudy Lemon Cider”.

He said the company is disappointed with the ruling, adding: “Despite the decision not going our way, we still believe taking this action was the right thing to do.

“We care about creating the perfect cider and thanks to a proud history of four generations of expert cider makers innovating and investing, we have done just that.”

During the trial, the judge was invited to take a “taste test” of the rival drinks.

She said in her ruling: “I have conducted my own blind taste test, as I was requested to do.

“I am no expert and have never tasted cloudy lemon cider before.

“I found the taste of the two products to be very similar, but I accept they are different.”

The trial was told that the Thatchers product was developed through “a comprehensive market analysis, feedback, and taste testing process, using over 25,000 litres of the initial cloudy lemon product”.

Thatchers’ barrister, Martin Howe KC, said the company spent nearly £3 million on marketing between 2020 and 2022 and had sold £20.7 million worth of the cloudy lemon cider drink as of September 2022.

Mr Howe said Aldi had achieved “extraordinarily high” sales of its Taurus product – more than £1.4 million – after a “lack both of development investment, or marketing spend”, adding that this “can only have been achieved by reason of Thatchers’ investment in the Thatchers product”.

But Judge Clarke ruled that claims that Aldi’s sales could only be the result of gaining unfair advantage from Thatchers’ investment “amount to little more than supposition”.

The dispute came in the wake of Aldi losing a separate court battle with Marks and Spencer after being accused of copying its light-up Christmas gin bottles.

Aldi has since appealed a High Court ruling that it infringed the design of the British retailer’s product, with a judgment expected at a later date.