You are using an old browser that may not function as expected.
For a better, safer browsing experience, please upgrade your browser.

Log in Become a Member

Once again, a warning has been issued - this time by the German Consumer Association (Deutscher Konsumentenbund e.V.) - concerning the use of the adjective "bekömmlich" as an advertisement for a low-acid wine.

The German Consumers' Association refers to a recent decision of the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) of 14 February 2013 (Ref. 3 C 23.12): "The labelling and advertising of a wine as 'digestible' in connection with the reference to a 'gentle acidity' is inadmissible due to a violation of European law."

The legal basis

Online traders of food products can protect themselves against warning letters, but first a few words on the legal background and factors that the courts use as the basis for their decision.

"Food law" refers to the multitude of national and European regulations that lay down rules for individual foodstuffs and how they are to be handled. Food law is strongly European in character. With Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002, there has been a Europe-wide basic regulation for food law since 2002.

The Health Claims Regulation

Since January 2007, food advertising must also be measured against the requirements of Regulation (EC) 1924/2006, the so-called Health Claims Regulation (HCV), which imposes special requirements on the use of nutrition and health claims for food. The regulation has the consequence that foods in the future may only be advertised with nutrition and health claims if they meet the criteria of the regulation.

A nutrition claim is any claim which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular beneficial nutritional properties by virtue of the energy it provides, is reduced or increased in providing or does not provide, and/or the nutrients or other substances it contains, is reduced or increased in containing or does not contain (Art. 2 para. 2 No. 4 of the Regulation).

Since 1 January 2010, nutrition claims may only be used if they have been explicitly listed in the Annex to the Regulation and the requirements laid down therein for the claim concerned are met.

A health claim is any claim that states, suggests or implies that there is a relationship between a food category, a food or one of its constituents on the one hand, and health on the other hand (Art. 2(2)(5) of the Regulation).

The Regulation distinguishes between several categories of health claims. For example, claims referring to the reduction of disease risk and claims referring to children's development and health may only be used after they have been authorised. Other health claims are to be included in a positive list. So far, 222 claims have been authorised.

Wine may not be marketed with health claims.

"Wholesome" is an inadmissible health claim

The definition of a health claim is very broad, which is also reflected in court decisions. For example, the Rhineland-Palatinate Higher Administrative Court (Oberverwaltungsgericht, OVG) ruled on 19 August 2009 (Case No. 8 A 10579/09.OVG) that the description of a wine as "easily digestible" constitutes an impermissible health claim. In the case of alcoholic beverages with an alcohol volume of more than 1.2 percent, health-related claims are generally prohibited according to Art. 4 para. 3 of the Regulation. After the legal dispute was brought before the Federal Administrative Court in the next instance, the latter, in a decision of 23 September 2010 (Case No. 3 C 36.09), asked the European Court of Justice to clarify how it defines the term "health claim" for food.

In a decision of 13 January 2011 (Case No. I ZR 22/09), the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) also asked the European Court of Justice to clarify the concept of health claims for food. This case also concerned the advertising of alcoholic beverages, in this case a herbal liqueur with 27% alcohol by volume with the statements "beneficial and digestible".

On the basis of the requirements of the European Court of Justice, the BVerwG has now decided that - as already explained at the beginning - the term "wholesome" is inadmissible in the context mentioned.


"Trollinger is a light, very digestible wine of which several quarts can be drunk...". Wine connoisseurs are familiar with such and similar statements - and most wine merchants have also often used these terms to promote their, e.g. low-acid, wines.

After all, the results of a Google search yield 176,000 hits.

Owners of online shops that sell food and thus also wine are strongly advised to scan their shop pages for the terms "wholesome" or "wholesome wine" and replace these phrases with others or simply delete them.

Traders who have already received a warning letter and are supposed to submit a cease-and-desist declaration within a short period of time, should not simply sign this pre-formulated cease-and-desist declaration without checking it, but should seek legal advice immediately.

Further information on the legal advice of RA Hans-Peter Kröger for Wein-Plus members

RA Kröger offers Business Premium members of wein.plus a free initial consultation after receipt of a warning letter: To the initial consultation

Related Magazine Articles

View All