Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Consumers urged to be wary of counterfeit liquor

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Consumers should be on the lookout for knock-off bottles of wine and liquor over the holiday season as criminals try to cash in on seasonal sales, industry officials warned yesterday.

Popular single malt Scotch and Canadian ice wine are the most vulnerable to copycats, they added.

"You tend to find that if there are brands that are growing strongly in a market there is more impetus there for counterfeiters," Ian Good, chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Taiwan is the tenth most important market for the Scotch Whisky Association with sales in excess of NT$3 billion last year, according to Good, also chairman of the Edrington Group which produces the Famous Grouse, Macallan, Highland Park and Cutty Sark brands.

"It is clear consumer deception and that is the area we have been working with the Department of National Treasury to try and reduce as much as possible," Good said.

Counterfeiters are trying "to ride on the back of established brands" and are selling substandard products to consumers who think they are buying the genuine article, he added.

A counterfeit product uses a trademark, or refills original bottles with some other liquid. But perhaps more damaging are the "look-alikes" that don't pretend to be the real thing, but look similar enough to fool the non-observant shopper.

"There aren't many counterfeit products out there," said legal expert Robin Winkler, senior partner at Winkler Partners (博仲法律事務所) in Taipei which represents the association.

"There are more problems with look-alike products that are not whisky. Technically they are knock-offs, but they are not counterfeit," Winkler said.

To spot a fake bottle of Scotch, shoppers should check that the strength of alcohol is clearly shown -- scotch by definition is 40 proof -- and look for an importer's label.

"And if the price appears to be ridiculously low, then you should have warning bells ringing," Good said.

Another product losing out to the criminals is Canadian ice wine, a very sweet wine produced from grapes that are allowed to freeze naturally on the vine.

Taiwan is Canada's second-largest market for ice wine after the US, with sales of NT$28 million last year.

"About 50 percent of what claims to be ice wine in Taiwan is fake," said Ted Lipman, executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei.

Fake ice wine tends to be much cheaper than the real thing, but consumers can double-check by looking for a VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) label on the bottle to be sure they are buying genuine Canadian ice wine, Lipman said.

Foreign companies have often complained that Taiwanese authorities are not serious about hunting down the knock-off merchants.

"Regulations are there, but implementation is a challenge," Good said.

But educating consumers may be more effective than hunting down infringers.

"I think people agree that Taiwan is not strong on the IPR enforcement side," Lipman said. "But if you harp about enforcement, you're not going to get far. The best way is to inform the consumer."

Winkler also said the industry should cut Taiwan's authorities some slack. "Considering Taiwan just came out of 50 years of [alcohol] monopoly, Taiwan is doing all right ? Sometimes the loudest voices calling for government resources are those companies in the best position to educate consumers and to screen products from coming in."

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