CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - GPlus fights EU's rules on lumpy sauce

Client: Nestle, Mars, Heinz and Unilever

PR Team: GPlus Europe

Campaign: 'Let us eat lumpy sauces'

Timescale: Mid-December 2001- ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed



An arcane piece of EU legislation would have us believe that what most

would consider a sauce is actually a vegetable. For years, the sauce

industry has been attempting to expose an EU rule declaring that 'a

preparation of vegetables, fruit or other edible plants' cannot be

called a sauce if more than 20 per cent comprises lumps.



The EU's Customs Committee distinguishes between the two by passing the

'sauce' through a sieve, rinsing the remaining lumps in heated water,

then measuring the percentage of the product that has passed

through.



Tariffs of up to 288 per cent are imposed on 'lumpy sauces', whereas

those with less than 20 per cent 'lumps' receive 20 per cent

tariffs.



The World Customs Organisation previously ruled that the lump system was

discriminatory and should be dropped. But sanctions cannot be imposed on

the EU.



Objectives



To postpone the Customs Committee's decision (10 January) to introduce a

final (unsatisfactory) offer to raise the lump threshold to 30 per cent,

allowing the food industry to voice its opinions. The delay would allow

the parties time to engage in talks.



Strategy and Plan



GPlus believed the issue needed a publicity boost. However, it wanted

the media to avoid covering the story as a further example of

Euro-silliness.



The story was broken to The Economist, which was likely to add gravitas.

The article was published on 4 January and was circulated to key players

in the Commission, and elsewhere. The US Government was also

briefed.



Officials increasingly became aware of the issue. GPlus associate

Philippe Lemaitre briefed the director-general for customs and the

agency maintained its dialogue with him, arguing the case for delaying

the Committee's decision.



Two days before the meeting, the story was fed to the Press Association.

It ran at 4.30am on 8 January and was picked up by UK and international

media.



The British Foreign Office briefed journalists about developments and

government officials in key member states were also briefed prior to the

meeting.



Measurement and Evaluation



Media coverage was extensive. The UK press embraced the story as

illustrative of the EU's obsession with fatuous legislation. The

ludicrous nature of applying arbitrary bureaucratic standards to the

definition of a 'sauce' was highlighted.



On the day of the meeting the Commission fought back on the basis of a

minor error in a Times editorial. The EU's counter-statement was

dismissed as erroneous.



Results



The decision to introduce a final offer on 10 January was postponed. The

media latched onto the story as another example of EU meddling. Despite

the media's pun-rich treatment, the issue avoided trivialisation.



GPlus is maintaining its campaign until the Committee reconvenes in

February.



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