Nestlé fails to stop copycat coffee capsules

Nestlé was left steaming by a court which said on Thursday it could not stop competitors from selling coffee capsules for its Nespresso machines in Germany.

Nestlé fails to stop copycat coffee capsules
Photo: DPA

The Düsseldorf court rejected an application by Swiss food giant Nestlé to ban the sale of unlicensed coffee capsules for its Nespresso coffee machines, giving the green light to copycat manufacturers to sell cheaper versions at up to two thirds of the price of originals.

The capsules, advertised by Hollywood star George Clooney, generated revenues of €2.5 billion for Nestlé last year. The overall market for capsules is booming and is expected to reach €6.6 billion by 2014.

That is now likely to be spread a little more widely. The regional court rejected Nestlé’s application for an injunction against two rival Swiss companies – Betron and Ethical Coffee Company (ECC) – from selling cheaper coffee capsules labelled “suitable for Nespresso machines”, despite not having a license to do so from Nestlé.

But the court found that although Nestlé subsidiary Nestec held the patent on the Nespresso machines and both it and its license holders produced original Nespresso capsules, consumers were not infringing Nestlé’s patent if they used coffee capsules made by other manufacturers in the machines.

The consumer’s right to unlimited use of their own property had higher priority than the protective interests of Nestlé, said a court spokesman.

The patent covered the machines themselves, but not the capsules, which although are essential for making coffee with the machines, they are not the devices’ “functional core,” said the court.

Nestec will continue to fight to prevent the two Swiss competitors from using the “suitable for Nespresso machines” label on their products, wrote Die Welt newspaper on Thursday.

Nestlé’s capsules are threatened in many countries by similar copycat competition and the multinational is suing in several places at once, with little success.

“We are disappointed that the Düsseldorf regional court did not grant our application for an injunction to protect our intellectual property,” Holger Feldmann, head of Nespresso Germany said in a statement, adding that Nestle would appeal, possibly at the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf.

DAPD/AFP/The Local/jlb

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Kaffee und Kuchen: The history behind a very German tradition

This leisurely afternoon ritual is key to the German lifestyle.

Kaffee und Kuchen: The history behind a very German tradition
A family takes part in the Kaffee und Kuchen tradition in Zellingen, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

The mid-afternoon is a signal to many Germans for a traditional pick-me-up in the form of “Kaffee und Kuchen” – literally, coffee and cake. 

Be it with coworkers, friends, or family, the culture of “Kaffeeklatsch” (the act of catching up over the two delights) enjoys nationwide popularity, typically between the hours of 3 and 4pm. 

READ ALSO: Nine German treats you'll want to eat right now (and one you won't)

You might invite guests to your home to show off your own hand-baked goods, or if you prefer to trust someone else to take care of the baking instead, countless cafes and the more authentic ‘Konditorei’ are dotted all over the country – and as a general rule of thumb, the more old-fashioned, the better.

A typical selection at a Konditorei. Photo: DPA

A longstanding tradition

The origins of the beloved custom can be traced back to the 17th century, when coffee was first imported to Germany. In these times, it was only the aristocracy who would indulge in the pastime, but by the 19th century the indulgent treat became more accessible, and the combination has since become a cultural staple.

Whilst the working world often only allows for a quick, shop-bought treat during the week, Germans will often make use of the weekends to celebrate with large pots of coffee and a selection of delicious sweet treats.

READ ALSO: A brewing moment: Germany's baristas compete to create world's top coffee

And despite being somewhat comparable to the English custom of ‘afternoon tea’, the cakes you’ll find in Germany are nowhere near as dainty.

Expect to see a big slab of decadent Bienenstich, Erdbeertorte or Baumkuchen enticing you from behind the glass counter of the patisserie. 

Regional variations

Exactly how your ‘coffee and cake’ set-up may look differs across the country and time of year, as traditional German cakes vary according to both region and season. 

In the Black Forest, cafes are known for their Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – indulgent layers of whipped cream and chocolate sponge (with added cherry liquor as the secret ingredient) are topped with chocolate shavings and cherries. 

A slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Photo: DPA

In Bavaria, it’s the Prinzregententorte, which combines seven layers of sponge and chocolate buttercream to symbolise its seven districts, finished with apricot jam, dark chocolate and cream. 

Frankfurt’s speciality is the Frankfurter Kranz, a Bundt cake layered with jam and buttercream and sprinkled with caramelised nuts. Over the festive period, Germans enjoy Stollen, a Christmas speciality from Saxony – a fruit bread made of nuts, spices and dried fruit and coated with icing sugar. 

Bringing together the chance to catch up with friends and to sample some delicious German delicacies, indulging in ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ really is the perfect way to spend your Mittagspause (afternoon break).