Stiftung Warentest had argued that Ritter misled consumers by calling its Whole Hazelnut (Voll-Nuss ) bar natural when it contained vanilla flavor piperonal.
The group contended that piperonal – in this case supplied by Symrise - could only be obtained using chemicals. However, the Higher Regional Court of Munich dismissed the case and upheld an earlier interim injunction imposed by a district court.
Allegations ‘without foundation’
“The decision is correct. It also shows that Stiftung Warentest must not make arbitrary assertions to the world, without any foundation," said Thomas Seeger, head of legal at Ritter Sport, in a translated statement.
He said that just because Stiftung Warentest did not know a method to obtain piperonal naturally, did not mean it was not possible. He called on Stiftung Warentest to admit their error just as the consumer group often required of companies.
“…The allegation of consumer deception thus falls back to Stiftung Warentest at the end.”
Real question still not answered, says consumer group
Stiftung Warentest said that Ritter and Symrise had still yet to disclose how the piperonal was obtained.
“We are naturally disappointed and would have preferred a different outcome, but the real question whether the piperonal was naturally or chemically produced, has not been decided in this hearing. This is still open,” said Stiftung Warentest CEO Hubertus Primus.
Ritter said in a release that it and Symrise had filed several patents on how piperonal could be obtained naturally on an industrial scale. Symrise also submitted an affidavit to the court from an expert that it claimed proved the vanilla flavor was naturally obtained.
Primus said that his group was waiting for the court to provide written grounds for its decision before Stiftung Warentest decided on further action.
The present ruling gives Ritter interim relief to stop Stiftung Warentest claiming Ritter is misleading consumers. However, the chocolate company cannot yet claim for damages.
Symrise welcomes ruling
Ritter’s supplier Symrise welcomed the latest decision.
“Symrise has assured right from the beginning that the natural flavor supplied for 'Ritter Sport Voll-Nuss' as well as the therein contained natural flavoring compound piperonal met all requirements of the EC European Regulation on Flavorings,” it said in a statement.
Under EC Regulation No 1334/2008, manufacturers can only use the term natural to describe a flavor when the flavoring components are of entirely natural origin. If a source is mentioned, at least 95 % of the flavoring should be obtained from the source referred to.