Ochakovo wins court case over beer quality

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Brewery

Claims by the Russian Trade Ministry that Ochakovo beer contained
an illegal preservative have been quashed by a Moscow court, but
the case serves to highlight the problems facing the country's
burgeoning beer market.

When inspectors from the Russian Ministry of Trade announced earlier this year that consumers should avoid drinking beer produced by the Ochakovo brewery, no-one was more surprised than the brewery itself.

The inspectors had apparently decided to secretly carry out quality tests on 25 brands of beer, and the first that any of the companies knew about it was the announcement by the Ministry in May that 15 of the brands, including not only those from Ochakovo but also from the country's leading brewery Baltika, were in violation of Russia's health standards.

Ochakovo was quick to react to the claims, and immediately began legal proceedings against the Ministry's inspectorate - proceedings which ended last week with a ruling in favour of the brewery.

A Moscow Arbitration Court judge ordered the inspectorate to take out advertisements in national newspapers stating that Ochakovo beer was perfectly safe to drink, a humiliating climb down for the Ministry, which is expected to appeal against the decision.

The case centres around whether or not the beer tested by the Ministry and found to contain traces of the illegal preservative sodium benzoate was in fact Ochakovo beer. The inspectors claim to have discovered traces of the preservative in Ochakovo's Originalnoye and Klassicheskoye brands sold in the Moscow region, but the brewery, which has run a major advertising campaign highlighting the fact that its beers are in fact preservative free, has always maintained that the beers tested were fakes.

According to a report in the Moscow Times​, Ochakovo has also claimed that the testing procedures used by the inspectorate are outdated and irrelevant for Russia's modern beer market - a fast growing industry in a country where vodka has long been the favoured alcoholic beverage.

"We had two main arguments. Firstly Ochakovo believes that the beer tested was not Ochakovo and secondly the testing methods used were incorrect,"​ the brewery's lawyer Yevgeny Baraginsky told the newspaper.

According to the Russian Brewers Union, also quoted by the newspaper, the inspectorate acted outside the law by publishing the results of its tests without any prior warning to the companies involved.

It is clear that something needs to be done to bring Russia's legislation into line with the needs of the new market-driven industry there, especially with increasing investment in Russia by major players such as Interbrew, which owns the Sun brewery, and Carlsberg, owner of Baltika.

This investment has been one of the major drivers behind the growth of the beer market in Russia, and the pace of development has been so fast that the legislation has failed to keep up. With the Russians already criticised for their arbitrary treatment of the Stolichnaya vodka trademark - which has been effectively renationalised and put up for sale again, despite being legally held by a private company - the country still has a long way to go before it becomes a truly attractive market for foreign investors.

Related topics: R&D, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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