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Crumbs! Court tells P&G not to call Pringles a potato chip

Published on .

VIENNA - Procter & Gamble's European rollout of Pringles potato chips, which are packaged in a tube, has crumbled in Austria, where a local court ruled on December 9 that Pringles are't really potato chips.

Austria's leading potato chip marketer Kelly, a subsidiary of Germany's Bahlsen snack group, complained after P&G started a heavyweight TV campaign to launch Pringles in Austria that Pringles don't qualify as "Kartoffelchips" or potato chips.

"According to (the) encyclopedia, a potato chip is a sliced potato which is later fried," says Kelly's General Manager Wolfgang Hoetschl. "But Pringles are made out of potato dough, which is then formed by an extruder. This is a much cheaper production process."

P&G promptly renamed the product Pringles Kartoffelgebeck, meaning potato cookies and dropped the word Kartoffelchips from its ads. That wasn't enough, however, for Kelly. Pringles' packaging carries six languages, including the words "potato chips" in English. Kelly has filed a lawsuit this fall seeking to force P&G to stop using the words "potato chips" in English, too. Vienna's Local Trade Court ruled on December 9 that P&G can't use "potato chips" on its packaging - in any language. "We will appeal the decision," says Friedrich Rummel, a P&G Austria spokesman. In the U.S., P&G already uses the words "potato crisps" instead of "potato chips."

P&G's initial ad campaign riled Kelly, the market leader with 70% of Austria's $186m potato chip market, by attacking traditional potato chips packaged in flimsy bags. "Chips in a bag have more crumbs and feel greasier," a voiceover said in a TV spot by Grey Duesseldorf, lead agency for German-speaking Europe. "But Pringles is taste out of the tube."

Kelly's parent Bahlsen has so far not taken any action against Pringles in Germany, where P&G is doing a small Pringles test market in the town of Hasloch in southwest Germany. P&G is believed to be planning a major German rollout in spring 1997.

Pringles is widely distributed in the U.K. but P&G, which only began exporting Pringles about four years ago, has held back on a major launch in continental Europe pending local production. Earlier this month P&G opened its first Pringles factory outside the U.S. in Belgium.

Copyright December 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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